The Virginia General Assembly is in session and Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) is a busy man. So why would he take time out of his schedule to visit the South County Government Center last week?
Warner came to see and support a cause that is near and dear to his heart — children's health insurance. He also had a chance to get an up-close view of the other things being done at the new center on Richmond Highway.
Linda L. Nablo, director of the Division of Child Health insurance program, said, "The governor is very interested in the status of this program. He has been interested in coming to Northern Virginia for a while."
Warner was introduced by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley (D), who reinforced that view when she said, "Gov. Warner had an interest in children long before he became governor. He's here today to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of FAMIS."
FAMIS stands for Family Access to Medical Insurance Security. It's a state-designed program that provides low-cost health insurance for children in families that earn too much for Medicaid but can't afford private health insurance. It epitomizes what the governor was trying to do long before he became governor.
"Being concerned about health care to underserved Virginians is not a new concern of mine," said Warner. "A child who doesn't receive health care doesn't do as well in school. His parents have to take time off work, and then they use the emergency room. This is what got me involved in health care. There were too many stories."
What Warner was excited about were the numbers of families enrolled in FAMIS. Warner said that when he came into office, only 36,134 of the 100,000 eligible children had enrolled in the program; as of last week, there were more than 50,000 children in the program.
AND THE NUMBERS KEEP GROWING. Part of the reason is because it is now easier to register. Thirteen pages of forms have been boiled down into one.
"Before, you had to have a Ph.D. or be a case worker to enroll. To sort through the maze was a bureaucratic mess. And then you often found out you went in the 'wrong door.' It didn't make sense morally or economically. We took a program that was user-unfriendly and made it user-friendly," said Warner.
Another problem with the system is that people don't know about it. Warner said that he and his wife, Lisa, are planning to do a series of public announcements on the program as part of an outreach service.
The staff at the South County Center has taken the streamlining concept one step further by developing HAAT (Health Access Assistance Team). This collaborative approach to staffing enrollment and eligibility determination consolidates workers from different agencies. They are all trained and empowered to certify and authorize enrollment in multiple health-assistance programs. This means that instead of going to several different places, a family can come to the center and get everything done. There are no more “wrong doors.”
"One of the things I'm trying to do in these tight fiscal times is to find ways to streamline state government. This is the kind of commonsense one-stop-shopping we need," said Warner. "I'm very anxious to take a look at all these services."
THIS WAS WARNER'S chance to see it in action. But before he got to the health care center where he would sign up a family, Ken Disselkoen, regional manager of Region 1, took Warner on a tour. He showed him the Senior Center, a very active part of the center where seniors play bingo, bridge and pool; go on trips; "walk to Miami”; hear speakers and much more. Warner purchased a raffle ticket from one of the seniors and stopped to visit with Norman Carlson and Mary Lou Matheny before he moved on to the Job Source Center. As usual, the Job Center was bustling with activity as job applicants used the computers, staff and reference materials to help with their job search.
And then it was on to the Teen Center. Although there were no teens in the center at the time, he made a point to say hello to Harry Swartz and Delmer Wade, two men who were playing pool, while their wives, Dale Swartz and Margaret Wade, played bridge along with Gertrude Kingsburg and Lee Sharma. Warner even found time to knock a few balls around on the pool table with Disselkoen.
The tour culminated at the Health Care Center, where Warner shook hands with several of the people waiting for services. He then stepped into one of one of the small offices, where the Cruz family waited. Rosa and Ovidio Cruz were there with their daughter, Jasmine, to apply for health care. Marty Van Hook, Senior Human Services worker from the Department of Family Services, was there to help, as well.
Because Warner is fluent in Spanish, he was able to ask the Cruz family questions in Spanish and then translate them for the form. One of Warner's aides said that they were surprised early on in the campaign when Warner was asked a question in Spanish and responded fluently. "We never knew he could speak Spanish," she said. It was an asset that made the Cruz family feel comfortable, as he asked questions and worked on the form. Within 15 minutes, the form was almost complete.
Sandra Stiner Lowe, director of Fairfax County Office of Partnerships, said, "It's so fast and streamlined. We can look at an application and tell if a family is eligible for the program." Lowe has known Warner for over 20 years and said, "He's just an honest-to-goodness person."