5 Things Virginia: Q&A w/ Jennifer Faison, State public option, Health equity


Emily Boerger


Fall is here. That means football, a little more rain, and elections. Polling in the governor’s race appears to show a steady lead of 3 to 4 points for McAullife. Youngkin will need to pull some more votes from the Southern Coastal region where he leads with 55%, according to a poll out last week.

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With help from Emily Boerger

1. Behavioral health update to the legislature

Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Alison Land says commonwealth facilities, which are already struggling with capacity challenges, are seeing an average of 2 to 3 resignations per week. Land’s update came during a recent Behavioral Health Subcommittee meeting focused on the workforce shortages facing Virginia’s behavioral health system.

During the meeting, Land said salary adjustments and increases to the base budget would make the biggest difference in supporting a strong BH workforce. Land also told lawmakers that DBHDS is working on a “crisis system transformation,” using $6.5 million in ARPA funds to support mobile crisis teams and $3.5 million for crisis receiving centers.


2. Commission discusses a state public option

Members of a Joint Commission on Healthcare subcommittee met recently to discuss strategies to improve health insurance affordability in Virginia. The Commission said it plans to work with the Urban Institute to evaluate several potential solutions including: commonwealth-funded cost-sharing programs, a health insurance mandate, adjusting the age rating curve, and eliminating the smoking surcharge.

They will also evaluate the impacts of creating a public option in the state, including how it might impact cost-sharing, premiums, spending, and plan enrollment. The subcommittee discussed early results from Washington State’s public option, which has gotten off to a slow start. Despite this, Jessica Banthin at the Urban Institute says the introduction of a new insurer, no matter how small, tends to help keep other plans’ premium increases lower.


3. Q&A w/ Jennifer Faison, VACSB

Jennifer Faison is the executive director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards which represents 39 CSBs across the Commonwealth and the Behavioral Health Authority. In this Q&A, Faison describes how CSBs have fared throughout the pandemic, VACSB’s legislative priorities, and COVID’s impact on behavioral health.

Faison says it’s hard to know what the long-term impacts of COVID will be, but says substance use and mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic will take a long time to address. “My hope is that the long-term effects will include a reckoning with the way the public behavioral health and DD system is prioritized and funded. You can’t make something from nothing. CSBs are eager to serve more individuals with a more robust continuum of care, but they won’t be able to without support from policymakers.”


4. Stark variation in COVID outcomes based on vaccine status

After a rapid increase beginning in July, it appears COVID hospitalizations in Virginia may be peaking, with 2,211 COVID hospitalizations as of Tuesday. The 7-day positivity rate also dropped below 10% earlier this week. Despite these positive signs, it’s clear COVID outcomes differ significantly based on vaccination status.

Data from VDH shows that just 0.5% of fully vaccinated Virginians have had a breakthrough COVID case, 0.019% have been hospitalized, and 0.0046% have died from the virus. According to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, from June through August 2021, preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults cost over $5 billion nationwide.


5. Conversations on health equity

During a recent colloquium focused on improving health equity in the commonwealth, over 30 leaders across Virginia’s health care sector met to discuss a range of issues including payment parity, affordable housing, broadband access, and education. State of Reform Reporter Nicole Pasia followed up with two of the colloquium participants for deep dives into how health equity plays out in rural Virginia and in medical education.

In this Q&A, Beth O’Connor, Executive Director of the Virginia Rural Health Association, discusses the unique challenges faced by rural residents and the projects VRHA is working on to address disparities. In this conversation, Shelly Smith at the VCU School of Nursing describes workforce training solutions and the importance of digital equity