Richmond, Va. — On July 1,an important policy change will go into effect that will make health care more accessible in Virginia.
Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) will roll out the FAMIS Prenatal program which will extend comprehensive health coverage to pregnant people earning below 205% of the federal poverty level, regardless of immigration status. This change will expand access to prenatal, delivery, and postpartum services to undocumented people who meet all other criteria up to 60 days after the end of pregnancy.
This change follows the end of the 40 quarter rule in April, which means that immigrants with residency no longer have to prove a work history for roughly ten years to qualify for Medicaid. “Lawful permanent residents must still meet a federal requirement of a five-year waiting period after entering the United States before they are eligible for Medicaid,” according to Virginia DMAS.
Virginia Organizing leaders celebrated these improvements and pointed to additional needs that must be addressed as part of their ongoing campaign to dismantle racism as a public health crisis.
“Finally, some health reforms will allow coverage for permanent resident immigrants that the health system has kept excluded,” said Isabel Hilario, a Virginia Organizing leader in Fredericksburg. “I am very happy with this news because I am a woman and a mother who suffers from chronic diseases, and I have needed medical treatments for several years. I have not had access to health coverage despite being an immigrant with residence. I thank everyone for making this change possible that will also benefit my Latino immigrant community.”
Juana Hart, also a Virginia Organizing leader in Fredericksburg, agreed that the changes are welcome but long overdue.
“These are great advances in the health system, that now our Latino immigrant community with legal permanent residence is going to have access to medical coverage, and also that health care is extended for prenatal and maternity care for women and their babies. I am an immigrant woman, worker, and single mother who has spent many years without access to health coverage, so I have found myself in the difficult situation of deciding between my medical treatments, the payment of my rent for housing, and food for my children and me. I know that there is still a long way to go, but I am grateful for these changes achieved thanks to the organization and struggle of our communities,” she said.
However, Sendy Portillo of the Richmond Chapter of Virginia Organizing drew attention to the terrible consequences of the ongoing exclusion of undocumented immigrants from most forms of health care in Virginia. At a recent panel discussion of “Racism as a Public Health Crisis,” Portillo told the story of the unnecessary death of her friend.
“Her name was Sheila. She was very close to my family. And she was having a lot of stomach pain. When she went to the doctor, they discovered a cancerous tumor in her stomach. She was told that she could not get surgery because she didn’t have health insurance, and because she didn’t have a Social Security number. She was working really hard with her husband to give to her children, but she stopped working because of the treatment. And sometimes they didn’t have money to eat, not even to pay the rent.
“When the restrictions of the pandemic started, she had to leave chemotherapy, because they told her that they would be giving treatment only to the people that had health insurance and had a Social Security number. So her cancer continued to progress. She got really sick. Her children were suffering a lot emotionally. They were very depressed. They were not eating. She was sending them to bed early because she didn’t have what to feed them. And after that, they told her that they didn’t think that she was going to live any longer and the next day, she got sick of COVID, and she passed away. She left four children, 13, 11, 8, and 3 years old. I still remember when they were crying to please heal my mom. I will never forget that. That was a clear example to me of what is racist,” Portillo said.
Another member of the panel, Dr. Makunda Abdul-Mbacke, a physician and member of the Martinsville/Henry County Chapter, explained the connections between racism as a public health crisis and the undocumented community.
“These changes in access for immigrants will help some groups of people, but they are nowhere near enough. The pandemic showed how racism affects public health. People were not able to get free testing for COVID-19. They said, ‘It’s available.’ It was available, but you had to see your doctor for it, and that meant you had to have some type of insurance or be ready to fork over at least $100. So that meant that there was not testing the way there should have been in the undocumented community, and we have a very large undocumented community in Martinsville and Henry County,” she said.
Virginia Organizing will continue to work to dismantle racism in health care and expand coverage for all people. Recently, they released a new issue brief highlighting racial equity in health care policies and called for Reps. Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, and Jennifer Wexton to sign the Tri-Caucus letter urging Congress to close the coverage gap by extending Medicaid to everyone who needs it.
To interview a spokesperson about this campaign, contact Rosemary Gould at 434-962-7261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.