Virginia is second in country in creating a committee of Medicaid members

On Wednesday, Virginia Medicaid members came to the program’s downtown Richmond headquarters to share their experiences with the state agency that manages their care.

Many represented their kids, who have physical and developmental disabilities. Some represented brothers or mothers-in-law with health problems, and still others represented themselves.

This year, the Department of Medical Assistance Services created the Medicaid Member Advisory Committee, an 11-member group of people from all over the state who deal with Medicaid in some fashion, either because they or a family member relies on it for health coverage.

Only Colorado has a similar committee, according to DMAS officials.

On Wednesday, the group’s second meeting, the members shared their experiences with the program and offered advice to DMAS on ways to improve outreach.

James Murdoch, a Tappahannock resident, suggested including on the DMAS website programs that other state agencies offer, because often members need services that another department can provide.

They also shared concerns about how the department can improve its screening tool. Margaret Crowe, a Stafford County mother of a child with disabilities, pointed out that some people may think they’re ineligible if they are only seeking coverage for a disabled child.

A lot of the suggestions centered around how to make things easier for struggling parents of children with disabilities who have a waiver through Medicaid. Accessing programs often isn’t intuitive, the members pointed out. About half of the 1.4 million people who receive Medicaid in Virginia are children.

DMAS staff were at the meeting to present to the group and take notes on what advice the members had.

“It’s why we exist: we’re here for our members,” said Dr. Jennifer Lee, the director of Virginia’s Medicaid program, in an interview. “As we learned today, they give us insights that we just cannot get without talking to them. It’s so important for us to understand what’s happening outside these walls, on the ground, in reality.”

Lee thought of creating the committee when she took the job last year.

“This is the reason I’m here doing this job and not working in a hospital ER as a physician,” she said.

Some of the suggestions that the members offered went outside of DMAS’s scope, though, like increasing rates for personal care attendants. Late in the meeting, Rachel Pryor, deputy director for administration, noted that the department can only work within the fiscal perimeters that the General Assembly sets.

“Our money comes from somewhere, and we don’t decide how much money we have,” she said. “That is the decision of the General Assembly.”