Powhatan Today: Abigail Spanberger visits Free Clinic of Powhatan

POWHATAN TODAY (RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH), LAURA MCFARLAND

Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, paid a visit to the Free Clinic of Powhatan last week as part of a two-day health care-related tour in the region.

Spanberger visited the clinic on Monday, Nov. 25 for a tour and a chance to talk to staff and volunteers about how they help people in Powhatan County and beyond who otherwise couldn’t afford health care.

Executive director Connie Moslow introduced Spanberger to the Free Clinic and what it does, who it helps, and how things will change once it moves into its new location on Skaggs Road in 2020. She talked about the medical services the clinic helps people get access to as well as dental care and mental health services.

Moslow said she was happy to have the politician visit to increase awareness of the free clinics in Virginia and how they impact small communities like Powhatan when there is no other place to go.

“I think she got that. I think she saw the need and all of the many services we provide, not just a doctor’s service. If she got that, I would be happy,” Moslow said.

One of the points Moslow discussed with Spanberger was how Virginia’s participation in Medicaid Expansion led to some changes in the Free Clinic’s patient make-up. As more of the clinic’s existing patients were covered under Medicaid, the Free Clinic was able to increase the threshold of the patients it covers from 200 percent of the poverty level to 250 percent, she said. They also have expanded to helping people in Amelia, Cumberland, and a small section of Chesterfield counties.

Moslow gave the example of an hourly construction worker who makes $16,000 and qualified for the Free Clinic’s services but had to work overtime to get a job done, bumping him up to $18,000. That knocked out his eligibility, which was now over 200 percent of the poverty level.

“At 200 percent you are dirt poor. At 250 percent you are still dirt poor but it allowed more people to come to the Free Clinic,” she said.

Spanberger said the intention of her visit was to better understand what the local community is doing, learn about some of the stories of the health care needs and impact within her area from the clinic, and hear possible specific takeaways of what can be done from a federal perspective.

“There is an interesting challenge as the clinic has been able to expand who it serves because of Medicaid Expansion changing the poverty level of patients they are seeing. It was just brought to my attention that in fact hospital systems who frequently work with charity care providers, that there is a concern related to federal law of whether or not they can change their poverty levels to meet what the local clinic has. I would have never been aware of that. That is not something that has been raised to me recently,” Spanberger said.

The Free Clinic and its work are valuable resources that highlight the importance of preventative health care and being able to see a doctor or dentist before a person is walking through the doors of an emergency room because he or she couldn’t afford to manage a chronic condition, Spanberger said. It is an issue that touches not only the patient’s life but also the larger economy.

“Visits to clinics like Powhatan and hearing some of the first-hand stories, it affirms for me the fact that health care continues to be the No. 1 issue for people across our district, be they insured through an employer or be they using the services of a free clinic like this one,” she said.

Moslow also talked with the congresswoman about how issues such as lack of transportation for a patient to receive services or being unable to afford a prescription have impacted how the clinic operates to be able to help them. The clinic has an excellent working relationship with Walmart to purchase prescription medicines for its patients and also has a prescription assistance program (PAP) to work with pharmaceutical houses to get discounts on expensive prescription drugs. Depending on the needs of that year, the clinic has spent anywhere from $17,000 up to $40,000 a year on prescription medicines, Moslow said.

When asked about how what she learned on the visit might translate into Spanberger’s priorities moving forward, she pointed to the issue of cost prohibitive prescriptions and how it causes people to make the “decision of when to pick up a life-saving medication that they need or not.”

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