CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The former director of Charleston’s Covenant House says she’s looking forward to serving residents on a statewide level, many who she says need affordable health insurance.
Ellen Allen was recently named the executive director of West Virginians For Affordable Health Care. She assumes the new role Aug. 15.
Allen previously worked to advance housing rights and opportunities that prevented homelessness and improved food security. She told MetroNews accessing affordable health care also ties into that, especially for low wage workers.
“I worked for over 10 and a half years for a population that did not have access and I’ve seen the difference it makes in their lives, and I would like to spend the rest of my lifetime working to make sure everyone has access to good and affordable health care,” she said.
Allen has a total of 35 years in management and leadership. Most recently, she served as executive director for the non-profit newsroom Mountain State Spotlight.
WVAHC Board President Sharon Carte said they’re excited to welcome Allen to the organization.
“Our local community is already familiar with Ellen’s leadership as former director of Covenant House in Charleston, where she had to meet many healthcare challenges for the people served there,” Carte said in a statement.
Having health insurance can be life changing, Allen said. She wants to make sure there are more options for people in West Virginia who need it.
“It effects our communities, our neighborhoods, our economies,” she said. “We have one of the lowest labor participation rates in the nation. We also have some very poor health outcomes, so it really makes a lot of sense economically to make sure we’re healthy, but to be healthy we need access to good, quality health care.”
About 30 percent of West Virginians currently have medical debt collections, Allen said.
“This is astonishing,” Allen said. “It can impact one’s credit score, result in garnishment of wages, bank account seizures, and even personal bankruptcy.”
Allen said her goal is to work with state leaders to create solutions.
“One of the priorities for West Virginians For Affordable Health Care will be to work with our representatives to create what we’re calling the ‘West Virginia Bridge Insurance Plan’ and that will be to cover people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but don’t have access to employer-based health insurance,” she said.
West Virginia has an older population compared to other states. Allen said she has some concerns about recent government rollbacks to Medicaid recipients as the COVID pandemic winds down.
“West Virginians are being unenrolled because of administrative errors so we’ve encouraged people to stay in touch with DHHR. If they get a letter, respond to it quickly so they can re-enroll,” she said.
Allen said access to Medicaid helps families access healthcare, substance use disorder treatment and postpartum services. It’s a joint federal and state program for some low-income people, families and children, pregnant people, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Since the start of the pandemic, West Virginia Medicaid increased by 160,250 enrollees. Thousands in the state are expected to lose coverage.