Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019
Primary care physicians do much more than detect and treat diseases and manage chronic conditions. Patients with access to primary care are also much more likely to benefit from preventive services including flu shots, blood pressure or cancer screenings. For nearly 20 years, a VCU Health team has operated the Virginia Coordinated Care Program, connecting uninsured patients with primary care resources in their communities. The program is ending on Oct. 31.
VCU News recently sat down with Sheryl Garland, chief of health impact at VCU Health, to reflect on the program, which she established in 2000.
What is the Virginia Coordinated Care Program?
The Virginia Coordinated Care Program gives uninsured patients access to primary care so they can get routine and preventive care at a community provider close to home instead of using the emergency room for their health care needs. We created the program at VCU Health, and our organization has fully funded it over the past 19 years.
Why did you establish the program, and how has it benefited the community?
In the early 2000s, uninsured patients had less access to primary care than they have today. While the state-supported Indigent Care Program that VCU Health System and University of Virginia operate provided financial assistance for health care services, we observed many uninsured patients using the emergency department for routine medical care that could have been provided in primary care settings. That is how VCC was born.
Since 2000, we have coordinated health care services for over 90,250 uninsured patients who qualified for the Indigent Care Program. We have been able to improve the health of our members and keep them out of the hospital by finding them a medical home with one of our 50 community partners. Among our members, our own data shows that emergency department visits dropped by 52%, and inpatient admissions dropped by 49% over the past 19 years.
Why are you ending the program?
Ninety-five percent of our current VCC members qualify for Medicaid under the state’s recent expansion of the program, giving them access to primary and preventive care. This was the goal of our program all along.
We are grateful to see that the gap we tried to fill has narrowed and so we shifted our focus to getting our members enrolled in Medicaid for the past year to ensure continuity of care after Oct. 31, when VCC ends.
What does this mean for members?
The majority of our patients qualify for Medicaid, since the rules of eligibility have changed. Once enrolled, patients have many options. They can request to stay with the community primary care provider we matched them with under the VCC Program, as all of them care for Medicaid patients. We recently asked our community care partners how many VCC patients they retained after the switch to Medicaid. An informal survey with the participating primary care providers revealed that the vast majority of VCC enrollees have chosen to remain with their medical homes even after enrolling in Medicaid.
What options are available to uninsured patients?
Our Financial Counseling Call Center is here to help patients enroll in any program they may qualify for, depending on their situation. I urge everyone with questions to reach out to them at (804) 828-0966. If someone applied for Medicaid in the past, I also advise to try again since the rules for eligibility have changed.
Patients who do not qualify for Medicaid can still access health care services at VCU Health System as well as through the free clinics and federally qualified health centers throughout Central Virginia.
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