The American Community Survey's 5-year estimates reveal that 16.7% of rural Virginians aged 18 to 64 are without health insurance, compared to 12.3% of non-residents. This has been identified as a major issue in Northern Virginia, with the lead author of a study conducted for the Northern Virginia Health Foundation, Woolf, pinpointing 15 “disadvantaged islands” intertwined among the region's thriving communities. To tackle this problem, Virginia is one of 27 states where the federal government has established and administers the Health Insurance Marketplace. Research has found that Northern Virginia has the highest rate of economic mobility in the country; 19% of children in the region who grew up in low-income households in the 1980s and 1990s earned one-third of the highest household income as adults.
This is due to Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) which guarantee that hospitals have the information they need to make meaningful investments in community benefits and coordinate these investments with external efforts to improve community health and well-being. Unfortunately, life expectancy between affluent and poor neighborhoods in Northern Virginia is 18 years, with uninsured non-elderly people not evenly distributed across the state's counties, and the South and Northwest regions having higher uninsured rates than other areas of the state. Population health also varies between counties in Virginia, with those in the north of the state, those in western Richmond, and those in the west along the Blue Ridge Mountains performing better than Richmond and Norfolk cities and rural counties along the North, South and Southwest Peninsula. Despite attempts to expand access to healthcare, resources for application and enrollment assistance are significantly lower in Virginia compared to states that expanded Medicaid and established their own markets. This is further evidenced by differences in life expectancy at the neighborhood level, up to 18 years.
In response to this issue, both houses of the Virginia Legislature approved changes to the state's mental health system, including increasing the amount of time a person considered a threat could be involuntarily detained or in emergency custody, additional funding for the state's psychiatric hospitals to increase their capacity, and the creation of a joint committee to study the state's mental health system. It is evident that broadening access to healthcare is essential for improving life expectancy and economic mobility in Northern Virginia. However, it is also important for communities to be more aware of mental illness and how it affects individuals, families, and society as a whole. With changes being made to Virginia's healthcare delivery system, it is essential that all citizens have access to quality healthcare.