PETERSBURG, Va. — Pens were in the hands of every person in the room at Southside Regional Medical Center on Friday, as Virginians signed up for coverage they’ve never had before. 

“I’m at the prime age that anything can happen,” Debbie Nash, of Prince George County, said. 

Nash tried to apply for Medicaid coverage a few years ago but didn’t qualify.

“Well, I just figured that I was screwed,” Nash said.

At 62 years old, Nash didn’t know where to turn. 

“I’ve just kind of been hanging loose on healthcare,” she said. “I just figured, well, I’d just have to wing it until I can figure out what’s going to happen.” 

For the past few years, Nash has received assistance through a program at a local hospital. Under the expansion of the Medicaid program in Virginia, she can apply for Medicaid. 

“It’s really making me feel good just about getting it done and hopefully it will all work out,’ she added. 

As of Friday afternoon, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services says 133,863 low-income adults have signed up for Medicaid under the new eligibility rules since the open enrollment period started November 1. 

Roughly 400,000 adults became eligible under the new requirements. 

The new coverage is available to men and women, ages 19 to 64, who are not eligible for Medicare. Income requirements vary by family size. For example, a single adult with an annual income at or below $16,754 may be eligible. An adult in a three-person family with a total household annual income at or below $28,677 is in the same boat. 

It took about four years to get Medicaid expansion passed through the General Assembly. It was a major part of the budget this year.

Among many things, the money will cover mental health services and fight the opioid crisis. Nash hopes to get more checkups with her primary care doctor for routine care, like mammograms and blood testing for high cholesterol or diabetes. 

“All of those things that we call them the silent killers because folks don’t necessarily know that they have them until we’re able to test for them,” Dr. John Yosay, the medical Director of Southside Physicians Network, said. “Often times by the time they realize they have them sometimes a lot of damage is done that can’t be undone.” 

The toughest conversations Dr. Yosay regularly has are with patients struggling with the costs for care.  

“A lot of work that we do with our patients is trying to decide which medications are more affordable,” Dr. Yosay said. 

The costs were high when patients didn’t have any form of coverage too.

“Folks without insurance, their only resource is the emergency department,” Dr. Yosay said. “So they seek healthcare in the emergency department which is very expensive, it’s very timely and it’s not as comprehensive as we can usually provide and primary care settings along with the help of our specialty providers.”

With more people eligible for Medicaid coverage, Dr. Yosay hopes patients won’t have to worry as much about their options. Hospital officials estimate about 15,000 patients from the Tri-Cities will gain coverage under Medicaid, while several thousand will at their other locations at Southern Regional Medical Center and Southampton Regional Medical Center. 

Eligible Virginians can apply for Medicaid coverage all year long. Others can apply through the marketplace, set up by the Affordable Care Act, until Dec. 15. 

Click here to see if you’re eligible for Medicaid. 

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‘Hanging loose on healthcare:’ Denied before, more than 133,000 apply for Medicaid under expansion – WAVY-TV