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Virginia’s CHIP Program Only Funded Through February

Malaina Poore's 17-year-old daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy last year. Without insurance through the FAMIS program, her medicine would cost $1,000 every month.

PAULY: The 2018 Virginia General Assembly session is already underway, and come tomorrow afternoon – the tall bleachers outside the state Capital building will be packed for the inauguration ceremony of state leadership like Virginia’s next Governor Ralph Northam. In case you’re wondering - it’s too late to get tickets, but you can stream the ceremony live on WCVE’s Facebook page or watch from a slight distance.

And while much of this week consisted of procedural work – like voting on rules to govern the session, Governor McAuliffe’s State of the Commonwealth address, and figuring out who will sit on which committee – there were a few meaty committee discussions. For example, Virginia’s Medicaid agency DMAS discussed the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or FAMIS, as it’s known in Virginia. DMAS Director Linda Nablo says either the state or federal government must act soon – or health coverage will end for over 60,000 children in Virginia. 

NABLO: “They have taken a couple of interim stopgap measures to keep states going.”

PAULY: One such federal stopgap was put in place in early December, but only helped those states worse off than Virginia.

NABLO: “Well what that did was because there was no new money, you had to take money from the other states in order to cover that gap for those that couldn’t make it through the end of the year. And that’s where we lost $16 million we had been counting on.”

PAULY: Right before the holiday – on December 21st – there was another stopgap issued, but Nablo says the close to $3 billion authorized for all states wouldn’t leave Virginia with enough funds to get through next month.

NABLO: “Of that, Virginia gets $51.9 million. That helps make up for some money they took away from us earlier in December, but it wasn’t enough – by itself – to get us all the way through February.”

PAULY: As of Monday, preliminary figures indicate an additional $28 million will be enough to carry the program through February, but not March.

NABLO: “It’s an exercise in math, and it’s very confusing for families to deal with this.”

PAULY: Malaina Poore is one of those families, as a single mother of two. The Charlottesville resident works in Richmond, and has a 17-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. Poore works fulltime – and has health insurance for herself through her employer – but says she wouldn’t be able to afford a plan that includes coverage for her kids. She’s already on a tight budget.

POORE: “I found out I needed glasses and I had to pay for glasses, I had a car accident and there was a deductible on the insurance…and that will throw me back. That’s two weeks worth of pay, and then we go two weeks backwards.”

PAULY: And last summer, her daughter started having seizures.

POORE: “We just walked in from the grocery store. We had just split off…I was about to put groceries in the kitchen and she was walking to her bedroom. And she turned around and she just had these huge pupils, and her skin looked different. And my doctor was the one that was able to spot that her left hand was kind of curled up, which was not what I noticed.”

PAULY: That doctor also gave a diagnosis: epilepsy.

POORE: “If she has a computer in her hand, she might throw it. She just keeps moving and talking and it’s very nonsensical. And it’s scary to see: her pupils get really big and she gets gooseflesh and then there’s a recovery time where she’s still not making sense and she won’t remember minutes and minutes that go by.”

PAULY: Thankfully Poore says she only pays $5 copays on medicine for what the doctor says would otherwise cost $1,000 per month. And that’s all because she qualifies for FAMIS. She says she tells her friends about the program, because many don’t realize they qualify. For a family of three like Poore’s – the income cutoff is just under $42,000.

POORE: “And I’ve been so happy to. I feel like there are so many broken systems, but this one is really great. Long before it was threatened I would say: I would just love to go thank whoever made this possible. I would like to shout it from the rooftops. I can’t say enough good things about it. I’m so pleased and I feel like everyone deserves this and every child deserves this.”

PAULY: The next opportunity for Congress to fully reauthorize FAMIS is one week from today - Nablo and Poore remain hopeful… because right now, there isn’t extra money in the state budget for it.