Fairfax County has gained national recognition for a program designed to make medical care more accessible to children of the working poor.
The Medical Care for Children Project recently was one of 10 national winners of the 1990 Innovations in State and Local Government Awards, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The award honors what program officials consider to be the most creative and successful government projects in the country and provides a $100,000 grant for each recipient.
The Fairfax project, through a partnership with physicians, pharmacies, medical laboratories, hospitals, dentists and two major health maintenance organizations, provides medical and dental care for children whose parents are too poor to afford private health insurance, yet whose incomes are too high for them to qualify for Medicaid.
Physicians in the program charge no more than $11 for an office visit, and the children's families pay $1. The county pays the rest. The usual cost of an office visit is $12 to as high as $65 for a specialist, said Sandra Stiner Lowe, executive director of the Fairfax County Department of Community Action.
Doctors and others who participate in the program "do it because it's the right thing to do," Lowe said. The county also eliminates a lot of red tape to make payments to doctors easier, Lowe said.
Lowe conducted a survey four years ago to determine how many children were without medical care. She found that 10 percent of the county's residents, including 19,000 children under age 18, were without medical insurance.
In a county whose median family income exceeds $60,000 annually, pockets of poverty exist where many uninsured children live, Lowe said -- welfare motels, shelters, trailers, even cars.
"We have a number of subsidized housing complexes in Fairfax," Lowe said. "The children are scattered, with the largest percentage . . . in the Baileys Crossroads area, a little of Annandale, a little of Mason and a little of Providence" districts.
About 1,000 children are in the program, Lowe said. Some 265 are enrolled in two HMOs, Kaiser Permanente and Group Health Association. The rest of the children are assigned to individual physicians. Each physician in the program is responsible for the care of 10 families, Lowe said.
In the last three years, more than 2,200 children have been treated, at a cost to the county of $175,000. Officials estimated that the program provides medical services worth more than $500,000 each year.
The program also uses 75 private physicians, 125 specialists, seven pharmacies, three laboratories, one urgent-care center, two hospitals, 50 dentists and three oral surgeons.
Recently, one child needed corrective surgery on a heart valve. "The child was treated at Kaiser at no charge to our grant," Lowe said.
In other cases, Lowe said, some families were without thermometers. When parents called a doctor about a child's illness, they couldn't tell the physician the child's temperature, Lowe said. Through Kaiser's purchasing plan, the program distributed thermometers, she said.
The Fairfax program was selected for the national award from among 1,552 applicants. Lowe said she plans to use $80,000 of the award money to start a program endowment fund. The rest will be used to help other localities develop similar projects, she said.