Tag Archive for Virginia

Virginia Passes on State-Run HIX

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced on Dec. 14 that the commonwealth would join 24 other states defaulting to a federally run Health Insurance Exchange (HIX), citing that the Obama administration did not provide Virginia with the information needed to make important financial decisions.

“Originally, I asked that we begin the planning process to potentially operate a state-based exchange for Virginia, primarily so we would be in control of this process. However, despite repeated requests for information, we have not had any clear direction or answers from Washington until recent days, and we cannot conclude, as we review those materials, that we would have the control and flexibility needed to efficiently and effectively run our own state exchange,” McDonnell said in a news release.

In some states, like Washington, plans to build a state-based exchange began as soon as the Affordable Care Act passed. But officials in several states, including Maine, announced they would take no part in the program. Maine Gov. Paul LePage returned a $5.8 million federal grant to be used for a partnership exchange.

As of Dec. 14, the deadline for states to submit blueprints for state-based exchanges, 18 states and the District of Columbia have declared state-based exchanges, seven states are planning for a state/federal partnership, and 25 states defaulted to a federal exchange, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Virginia Launches Online Public Assistance System

Virginians in need of public assistance can now file for benefits online from the comfort and privacy of home.

The state launched CommonHelp, a self-service website that allows residents to apply for benefits, check on the status of applications or renew for assistance electronically. The system saves them the hassle of having to travel to a social services branch office to do paperwork and speeds the process of eligibility determination.

Developed in tandem by Deloitte and Virginia technology and social services staff, the site went live earlier this month. CommonHelp took approximately 18 months to build and can be used by citizens to apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, child-care services, energy assistance, food assistance and some medical assistance.

“Virginians can now apply for our services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from their homes, libraries, schools or anywhere the Internet is available to them,” said Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner Martin D. Brown in a statement. “For some of our most vulnerable citizens, including the disabled and seniors, online services will make it easier to screen and apply for assistance.”

In an interview with Government Technology, Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources William A. Hazel said the change was necessary due to aging back-end processing systems and a huge uptick in the number of people applying for benefits the past few years. 

Hazel explained that three years ago, approximately 600,000 people were enrolled in Medicaid. But with the difficulties brought on by the recession, that number is now roughly 960,000. In addition, eligibility determinations have skyrocketed, with more than 1.2 million being done last year for Medicaid and another 1.1 million for the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

But as the applications have increased, the budget for staffing, benefit eligibility determinations and other related tasks has not. Hazel said the situation has increased the amount of time customers have to wait for their eligibility to be verified and a backlog of work on staff that turns into error rates on applications.

In 2009, the percentage of errors on a Medicaid eligibility application was 16 percent — pieces of information were missing, applications were incomplete, etc. That drove the decision to create CommonHelp.

“We were faced with the thought that we had to have a more permanent solution to provide better access to citizens and reduce the eligibility application [error] rates,” Hazel said.

“This ultimately is not simply about eligibility determinations,” he added. “It’s about better case management and providing a higher quality service and being able to measure the results of the services we provide.”

Deloitte’s involvement in the project began years ago. The company was originally brought on by the Virginia Department of Social Services to build a website so that residents could apply online for child-care benefits.

But as the Department of Health and Human Resources decided to integrate its siloed systems and transition to service-oriented architecture — a collection of Web services and technology components that can help connect disparate systems — the initial child-care project was expanded.

Deloitte used the original technology it developed for a similar project in Michigan and adapted it to fit Virginia’s needs.

Virginia staff was also a big part of the portal’s development. The language used on the website was vetted through test audiences to ensure words were understandable, and social service workers were consulted so that the system was intuitive even to users not familiar with computers.

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Buzz Off! New Tech Tracks Pest Inspections in Virginia

Technology may never be able to fully eliminate bothersome pests such as mosquitoes, but it’s making it easier to spot and swat habitual insect breeding sites in Prince William County, Va.

Workers in the county’s Gypsy Moth & Mosquito Control program are using a custom-built, real-time data management system with a Web-based GPS-enabled map interface. Accessed via an iPad, the mobile field reporting tool has enabled field technicians to more efficiently find and mitigate insect sites, as well as record when the area was visited and what chemical or method was used for treatment.

Prior to the new system, workers would manually record site visits on paper forms and store them in a binder. They’d then head into the office to type the same information into a database, cutting short the amount of time they had in the field. That information would then be copied from one database to another as needed by county personnel.

Tim McGonegal, branch chief of the county’s Gypsy Moth & Mosquito Control program — a part of the Environmental Services Division within the Prince William County Department of Public Works — made the call to upgrade to a modernized reporting system a couple of years ago.

Field techs were spending up to seven hours a week on data entry, and anytime McGonegal had to run a report on their activities, he said it was like “pulling teeth” because the information was stored in multiple databases.

So instead of continuing a paper-based system, McGonegal came up with the application’s work flow and mocked up a set of electronic forms in Microsoft PowerPoint. After getting approval for the concept and selecting The Timmons Group of Richmond, Va., to design the system, the initial beta version was delivered in September 2011. The process to bring the system live took about a year.

The application features a variety of drop down menus and automated functionality, so very little typing and data entry work is required. McGonegal’s crew used the application for gypsy moth surveys through November 2011.

After the first trial run, some additional search parameters and reporting tweaks were made, and GPS tracking was added to the application so field technicians could more easily find existing breeding locations. The final version of the system went online in March, and the county purchased nine iPads for the crew and other personnel responsible for some field work. Total cost of the entire project was $40,000.

The department started using the technology for mosquito season and is up to 4,500 inspections so far this year — way up from past years, according to McGonegal, though he did not give specifics.

Adding the tracking functionality was a huge efficiency gain for McGonegal’s field crew. For example, in addition to plotting a more precise morning route, if field techs are in unfamiliar territory, they no longer have to rely on another crew member’s notes about the location to guide them to an existing breeding site.

“If they are in the middle of the woods with no real structures to orient themselves, they hit the tracking button, a blue blinking dot comes up and they can walk to the stand of trees accurately, without rely on an old description,” McGonegal said. “It’s really been a morale booster for the field crew; they all really like it.”

The system’s also been a winner back at the office. Instead of calling a technician’s cellphone to assign a site visit, McGonegal or his assistant can enter the information directly on the system, which will send it instantaneously to the person’s iPad out in the field. The change has helped improve response time to citizen requests.

In addition, the program makes pulling up detailed information and generating reports a lot easier for McGonegal. He said that at any time, a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture can make a visit and ask to see treatment records. In the past, the process of coming up with those records might have taken hours.

Now a report can be quickly created for each treatment area by map, including details on what technician was last at a site, the product used, and which type of breeding site it was. All of that information is available minutes after a tech completes a site visit. The data is also stored in the cloud, making retrieval more convenient.

Field technicians can also spend additional time checking out different types of potential breeding sites. In the past, because of the demand for data entry, technicians were just looking at storm water management ponds because there was no time to expand the program.

But now workers can take time to look and map places such as ditches, streams, swamps and other areas that could be trouble spots for pests. The department now has more than 1,800 breeding areas listed, which is double the amount they had prior to the new data management system coming online.

“Our volume of sites is getting larger and [the field crew] has time to do it because of the system,” McGonegal said. “As we grow, we may have to add another field tech, but for now, we’re handling it pretty well.”

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