WTFC: Still a need for services

Published 9:54 pm Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Western Tidewater Free Clinic isn’t yet sure what the need will be in its service area following last week’s expansion of Medicaid by the Virginia General Assembly.

The expansion will open Medicaid to an additional 400,000 low-income adults on Jan. 1 after Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bills, and they will be joining 34 other states that have already adopted the expansion.

“It will take time to confirm our future position, as it will take time for the details of the policy change to be implemented by the state and federal agencies,” WTFC Executive Director Chet Hart said in an email.

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Currently, to qualify for services at the clinic, patients must be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and they cannot qualify for Medicaid, Medicare or VA benefits. The current federal poverty level is just over $12,000.

Without the expansion, Virginia has restrictive eligibility for Medicaid. There are only six states that have stricter Medicaid eligibility standards.

Childless adults cannot qualify for Medicaid. Working parents cannot have an income higher than 30 percent of the federal poverty level. Elderly and disabled cannot have an income higher than 80 percent, and pregnant women and children, up to 18, cannot have an income higher than 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

The Western Tidewater Free Clinic served more than 18,000 patients in Suffolk, Franklin, Isle of Wight County and Southampton County in 2016, with even more demand than it was able to satisfy.

Medicaid expansion will now allow childless adults to qualify for Medicaid as long as they earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line — about $16,500. The other eligible categories for Medicaid will also expand, leaving the free clinic with fewer patients who qualify for its services.

However, Hart believes there will continue to be plenty of people who rely on the free clinic for health care.

“We believe there will continue to be a need for WTFC to honor our mission to provide high-quality health care to those who cannot otherwise afford it,” Hart said in an email. “In preparation for this, the WTFC board and leadership have been engaged in discussions and will continue to do so.”

The budget bills still need Gov. Northam’s signature, but the pediatrician has already voiced his support for the Medicaid expansion.