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Health News: FAMIS: A True Family Story

By Terrance Afer-Anderson

A staggering number of Virginia children are living without a health safety net. They are uninsured. According to a recent Urban Institute report, 5.8 percent of all Virginia children, under age 19, did not have health insurance in 2014. That’s an alarming 115,000 children.

But what is it like to be a child with no healthcare coverage? What options are there available? Denise Parker knows those answers all too well.

Parker has extensive experience helping Virginia families secure coverage for their children. Yet, she has also had to find help to get her own children insured. It was that unnerving experience that launched her on a mission that she pursues with unceasing passion.

Parker is a new health educator with the Norfolk Department of Public Health, tasked with identifying and assisting eligible families to enroll in Virginia’s Family Access to Medical Insurance Security programs (FAMIS). She comes to the health department with a background not alone steep in assisting residents with programs like FAMIS, but also with first-hand experience.

Parker has three sons, ages 37, 17 and 14. She shares her modest home with her two youngest. She told me recently, “Both of my boys are athletes. They have been hurt several times.

My oldest son,” she added, “had a concussion. He stayed in the hospital for 2 days and had an MRI to see if there was any swelling.” She then beamed broadly, as she recalled how FAMIS had come to her aid.

“It cost me just $5,” she said. “Suppose I didn’t have insurance. I wouldn’t have been able to pay my bills.” She added that, while he was recovering, her son was also in a home rehab program for six weeks. The cost was only $5 per visit.

Parker is genuinely appreciative of the role that programs like FAMIS have played in her sons’ lives. “They have been covered since birth, beginning at 6 weeks of age,” she said. It is that direct experience, accessing Virginia’s insurance assistance programs, that she brings to bear in educating low-income families on the resources that may be also available to them. She noted that when she first meets a client, “They see you sitting there and they don’t know what you are yourself going through. But I can relate to them.”

Relate to them indeed. She has helped thousands of children get insurance coverage. For her efforts, in 2011, she was honored by the Virginia Health Care Foundation with the prestigious Unsung Hero Child Health Champion award. It should be noted that, during the last fiscal year alone, Parker enrolled 683 children and 215 pregnant women in FAMIS programs. Parker comes to the Norfolk Health Department with considerable experience helping uninsured and disadvantaged children. She has worked with Head Start, The Planning Council and the Child Health Investment Partnership (CHIP) of South Hampton Roads. She said “I like it.” Then she paused, realizing that was not an adequate portrayal of the fondness she has for her work. She added, with infectious enthusiasm I might add, “I LOVE IT!”

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Parker especially appreciates the FAMIS programs and what they do to help children get important health insurance coverage. “I carry FAMIS materials around in the trunk of my car,” she said. “It’s loaded! If somebody needs help, I got to go” to be there for them.

The FAMIS programs provide health coverage for children up to age 19. There are income requirements that must be met, but the list of covered services is extensive and includes: doctor visits, dental care, routine well-baby and well-child checkups, emergency care, hospital visits, vaccinations, lab tests and x-rays, prescription medicine, vision care, mental health care, etc.

For a child to be eligible for the FAMIS programs, they must 1) live in Virginia, 2) be under age 19, 3) be a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien, and 4) live in a family whose total household income meets FAMIS program guidelines, such as $49,815 for a family of 4. The co-pay for covered services can range from $2 to $5. Some covered services are free. Parker also noted that there is a FAMIS MOMS program for pregnant women. She has extensive experience with all of these and shared a story that demonstrates how effective she is at what she does.

A young girl attending a Norfolk elementary school was a severe asthmatic and was receiving FAMIS Plus, yet her mother had failed to renew that Medicaid coverage. Parker received an urgent call from a school nurse. The student no longer had an inhaler and was having a health crisis. Previously, an ambulance had been called to the school on five separate occasions. Parker created a team that included herself, the school nurse, and the young girl’s doctor and, together, they petitioned Medicaid to expedite renewal of the critical coverage the little girl so desperately needed. Parker stated her determination and resolve with great humility. “It’s more than a job for me,” she said. “It’s about having the compassion and the resources to help people.”

And why does she see FAMIS as so important? “When you have lived the life as I have, you appreciate that FAMIS allows you to have a family, to work, and be able to afford health insurance for your children.” She then paused for a moment and added a simple statement that offers profound commentary on why FAMIS even came into existence. She said, “I feel that a child that is covered with health insurance is a more healthy child.”

If you have questions or would like more information on the FAMIS programs and the eligibility requirements or other health insurance programs, call Denise Parker, Norfolk Department of Public Health at 757-285-7841 or Cover Virginia at (855) 242-8282.

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