During an evening with friends, we were catching up on the lives of our young adult children, most graduated from high school or college and in various stages of finding “the” job, applying for grad school, and otherwise just figuring out how to live on their own. To a person, we agreed, the most important change in health care in recent years was being able to keep our adult children on our insurance plans until age 26. While there were mixed views on Obamacare, there was again (some grudging) agreement and relief that there is a health insurance option through the exchange if the perfect job with pay and benefits does not materialize.
This same conversation about “access” has played out across the country, and has consumed the Virginia General Assembly over the past few years as it debated whether to use federal funds to bridge the “coverage gap” of an estimated 400,000 Virginians who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, don’t qualify for tax credits under the federal plan, and can’t afford insurance on their own.
So who are we talking about? What is “too much” income? In Virginia, individuals earning more than $11,500/year, or a family of 4 earning between $7,000 and $23,500 per year earn too much under Virginia’s current plan to qualify for Medicaid benefits (www.vaconsumervoices.org). Who are those people? Simply put, it includes our parents, children, employees and neighbors—veterans, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities or suffering from mental illness, people working in jobs that don’t provide health insurance, and those who must choose between insurance premiums or paying the rent.
Of course, most of us understand and can agree on the “access” piece—what do we want and need for our own families? At the same time, just talking about “access” oversimplifies the complexity of our health care system and ignores questions about cost and quality, and whether our investments are producing the health outcomes we expect. That is why the debate before the Virginia General Assembly includes efforts to further reduce fraud and abuse, find efficiencies, manage costs, ensure the viability of health care providers—while also addressing the issue of health care access for Virginians. We agree with this approach, and have also highlighted the role of social determinants of health, and why health prevention and investments in education, workforce development and affordable housing are a critical part of the health outcomes equation.
Cornerstones is doing its part, and has been a proud partner with government and our community to foster healthy, connected and stable families and communities for more than 40 years. Beyond our well-known role in addressing homelessness and affordable housing, Cornerstones is tackling issues that directly impact the health and well-being of our community—
- Trained Cornerstones staff and volunteers enrolled 264 people in the new federal health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act as part of a coordinated effort in Northern Virginia—and we are ready to assist the state if it expands eligibility for Medicaid.
- Our Healthy Families Fairfax partnership offers health care and home visiting services for 600 first-time parents to ensure a healthy pregnancy and developmental care for children, while preventing child neglect and abuse in at-risk families.
- Children at Cornerstones’ Laurel Learning Center receive health screenings and regular developmental assessments and participate in school-readiness programs, entering school healthy and ready to learn. School-age students stay active all year through camp and recreational partnerships with Reston Association, Reston Community Center and the Y-Reston. Through the generosity of the people and organizations behind the Reston Kid’s Tri and Reston Sprint Triathlon, we are encouraging strong, healthy, confident children who can add “tri-athlete” to the list of things they have achieved.
- Cornerstones is the “backbone” partner and fiscal agent in the Connections for Hope Partnership that brings the services, programs and resource network of more than 30 nonprofits, government agencies, local schools and community/civic organizations to a neighborhood-based campus in Herndon. The unique feature—and one that is delivering real improvements in health and self-sufficiency—is the partners’ role in collectively addressing human service needs and measuring the results. Free and reduced health care for infants through adults, housing resources, job training and placement, legal assistance, learning and enrichment programs for youth and adults are just a few examples of core services accessed by thousands of people in our first year of operation.
- Cornerstones believes we can significantly reduce hunger and food insecurity for our neighbors, and is engaged in a community conversation with local faith, business, community and civic groups and other nonprofit organizations to build on successful initiatives such as community gardens and the Reston Farm Market and Lake Anne Merchants Association program to accept SNAP cards (food stamps) for the purchase of fresh, healthy food. The community collects millions of pounds of food for distribution by Cornerstones, LINK, Grace Ministries and Helping Hungry Kids each year, but is there an appetite to work together to end hunger in our community?
We know there is much we can do together to improve the health and well-being of our community today. There are other things that take our collective effort—increasing and preserving affordable housing, helping workers gain the education and skills that employers need today and in the future, and ensuring that health care is there when we need it. Let’s take a first step together by working with the Governor and General Assembly to close the health care coverage gap.