The mission of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) is to provide Wisconsin citizens a greater hand in receiving and managing social service benefits and also increase the member participation in various social service programs by simplifying the process to apply for and retain services and by reducing the stigma associated with applying for and receiving public assistance.
Government agencies across the United States are faced with increasing workloads and decreasing funding. In order to keep up, states must implement organizational changes, new service delivery approaches, and enabling technologies. Wisconsin DHS created a new service delivery for its social service benefit programs by developing ACCESS, an integrated, web-based, multi-lingual self-service portal. This user friendly portal provides customers a greater hand in receiving and managing social service benefits. The web based portal enables citizens to determine if they are potentially eligible for various social services programs, check the status of their benefits through individual accounts, apply and renew for benefits via an online application, and report changes to their information. ACCESS also enables community partners to assist customers in applying for and maintaining their benefits.
ACCESS also enhances coordination and cooperation between State, local agencies administering these social service programs, and community based organizations by allowing organizations such as health care providers, schools, faith-based agencies and other agencies to establish temporary enrollment for children and pregnant women. ACCESS fully integrates with CARES Worker Web, which is used by state and local agencies to perform eligibility determination and case management for various social service programs. This integration also helps reduce the workload of local agency social service workers.
The creation of ACCESS was driven by the DHS’ strategic vision for improving services provided to citizens of Wisconsin. This vision includes:
1) Improving customer service and satisfaction: Aging tools and limited service channels hindered the Department’s ability to provide consistent, quality customer service. We had to take advantage of modern tools such as the internet to improve customer service and provide services outside of the traditional business hours. 2) Increasing program participation: The Department sought to reduce the barriers to applying for and retaining services. Through a grant provided by the USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) Food and Nutrition Services, the State wanted to leverage options to make the social service programs more accessible to clients. 3) Reducing workload for social service workers and reducing administrative costs: Public assistance caseloads continue to increase each year, with little or no increases in administrative funding. In order to meet the growing demand under tight fiscal policy, we had to increase program automation. 4) Enhancing coordination and cooperation between the State agency, local agencies, and community based organizations: Our business model involves complex coordination among a multitude of agencies and organizations. We were looking for ways to streamline processes and policies, simplify communication, and reduce confusion for both social service workers and customers. 5) Improving accuracy and reducing errors: Increasing workloads were leading to data inaccuracies and higher error rates, especially in the Food assistance program. The Department sought to improve data collection methods through online data exchanges and easier change reporting.
Milestones already achieved:
The above objectives were accomplished by designing ACCESS, the customizable web based application to be short, simple and intuitive. It supports English and Spanish, is written at a fourth grade reading level, and is also designed to be accessible to users with special needs. ACCESS has 24x7 availability and offers a convenient way for clients, providers and community partners to access relevant information in a secured environment.
Since its implementation, ACCESS has become increasingly popular and has become a valuable outreach tool. It has helped increase program participation by raising awareness about potential eligibility and encouraging new applications. More applications for the different social service programs are now received through ACCESS than through the phone and the mail combined.
The success of ACCESS in Wisconsin has led to the transfer and implementation of this system in other US states, including New York, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado and New Mexico.
www.access.wisconsin.gov – The use of ICT has enabled Wisconsin DHS to expand their service delivery channels for their programs by providing an alternate way for the residents of Wisconsin to get an easy access for applying and managing their benefits for different social service programs. The 24x7 availability of the web based application makes it much easier for citizens to get accesses to the various programs from any convenient location that has internet access. The system has also helped the department to use as an outreach tool to raise awareness among the citizens regarding the various programs that are available for them. It has also helped reduce the stigma associated with applying and receiving the public assistance.
The simple to use, highly customized and interactive application provides more clear and comprehensible information to the customers. The text used in the application is written at a fourth grade reading level, and is designed to be accessible to users with special needs.
ACCESS consists of 8 primary modules: Module 1 - Am I Eligible (August 2004); Module 2 - Check My Benefits (September 2005); Module 3 - Apply for Benefits (June 2006); Module 4 - Report My Changes (September 2006); Module 5 - ACCESS for Partners and Providers (January 2008); Module 6 – ACCESS Fee Payment (June 2009); Module 7 – Renew My Benefits (January 2010); Module 8 – HNA/HMO Selection (July 2010);
The ACCESS application went live with “Am I Eligible" module in August, 2004 and has been significantly enhanced each year. “Am I Eligible” is a quick 15 minute self screening tool which enables users to learn which members of their household may be eligible to receive benefits through state assistance programs. The user is guided through a short interactive webpage flow that gathers basic information about the household and tailors questions based on user responses. This tool not only screens users for key DHS programs, such as Food and health insurance programs, but also for programs offered by other agencies such as tax credits from the Department of Revenue, school meals from the Department of Public Instruction, and the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) from the Department of Administration. Furthermore, potentially eligible users are referred to apply online or at a local county agency administering these programs. This has served as an effective outreach tool in educating citizens of Wisconsin on the type of programs that are available to them when needed.
“Apply for Benefits” further integrates ACCESS with the CARES Worker Web (CWW) system, allowing for electronic submission and processing of benefit applications by Wisconsin local agency public assistance workers. The customers are able to create a secured account and apply for various programs. Based on the programs that the individual is applying for, a customized and intelligent driver flow is established to collect only relevant information from the household those are required to determine the program eligibility. When applying online, they can also sign the application electronically. This eliminates the need for signing the paper application and mailing it to the agencies administering these programs. After submitting the applications online, the customers can track the status of their application which eliminates phone calls to find out the status of their application. The intelligent and interactive application allows customers to apply online for social service programs, and is designed to take approximately 30 to 40 minutes to complete. The customers are also able to view a printable version of what they submitted. In addition, community partners are able to assist with applications. Community partner participation is tracked by ACCESS and the State provides grants based upon the number of applications submitted through them.
“Check My Benefits” allows a customer to query the details of their confirmed benefits for different programs. Customers are allowed to set up a secured account by providing some identifying information. Once an account is setup for a user, benefit information for the customer and his/her household is shown to the user. A real time interface has been built between the ACCESS and the CARES Worker Web, an Integrated Eligibility case management system to extract the customer eligibility information and provide the relevant details in ACCESS. The information that is extracted from CARES Worker Web is stored in ACCESS database for displaying the details. This approach has eliminated the number of real time calls which otherwise would have been made against the high volume transaction system. Benefit information is displayed in simple message format that is simple and easy for the customer to understand. These benefit information are refreshed on a regular basis to provide an up to date information to a user. This module also supports an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system for Milwaukee County where customers can listen to recorded messages regarding the benefits they are receiving. ACCESS provides information to the IVR system to enable customers to authenticate themselves and to provide benefit information about new and registered customers.
“Report My Changes” module of ACCESS allow customers to report changes online thereby reducing the need for customers to visit public assistance offices. In order to retain the data integrity and make the data entry process much easier for the customers, ACCESS retrieves information from the CWW system real-time and displays this information to the client to assist them in reporting changes. The changes are submitted to CWW in real-time for processing by a local agency worker. This approach of data collection has really worked well to gather the correct information from the customers.
“ACCESS for Partners and Providers” allows organizations such as health care providers, schools, faith-based agencies, and other community-based agencies to establish temporary enrollment for children and allows health care providers to establish temporary eligibility for pregnant women. This allows clients to receive needed care immediately while the longer, full benefits application is being processed.
“Fee Payment” module of ACCESS enables users to pay application fee to enroll in to a program or make a monthly premium payment to stay enrolled in a program online. The highly secured online payment tool protects the user’s sensitive demographic and financial information by encrypting the data that is sent over the network. The security of the data sent over the network is not compromised. The online payment option is alternate to making payments using checks. When payments are made online, the processing is fast and it reduces the time and the cost associated with mailing and processing the paper checks.
“Renew My Benefits” module of ACCESS allows customers to renew their benefits online. Similar to the “Report My Changes” module, in order to facilitate much easier data entry when filling out the renewal application, ACCESS retrieves the household information from the CWW system real-time and displays this information to the client to assist them in effectively filling out their application. The renewal applications are submitted to CWW in real-time for processing by a local agency worker.
“HMO Selection” module of ACCESS enables customers to interactively choose their Medicaid HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) online when filling out their application. Customers applying through ACCESS are given an opportunity to select an HMO as part of their application and can also change their selection throughout their open enrollment period. This process recommends the best HMO based on a customers preferred doctors and hospitals and HMO quality. Wisconsin views this process as an important stepping stone towards implementing the health insurance exchange as part of national health care reform.
Connecting with the low income people:
The social services offered by the Department provide services to all low income people including children, youth, men, women and seniors equally irrespective of the age, gender, origin, physical or mental disabilities. Based on the federal and state laws, there are different programs that have been designed to cover people of all ages and groups. When the household applies for some or all of these programs online, based on the information provided by the customers in their application, the web pages are customized to collect only the relevant information that are required to determine their eligibility in those programs. This has simplified the data collection and made it easy for the customers to apply for benefits for these programs online. The simple and very easy to use website has given a positive experience to the customers of this website. The website is also accessible to people with special needs.
A growing number of low-income residents have access to computers – at home, through friends or family, at work, at school or at the library or other community centers. The users of ACCESS can create a secured account and apply for and maintain their benefits 24x7. Since ACCESS went live, we have seen an increase in program participation across different programs and more and more people have started using the online tool to manage their benefits and connect with their public assistance workers. We have also seen an increased number of people applying and managing their benefits outside the traditional working hours. Making the tool available outside of the normal business hours have provided customers the greater amount of flexibility they need to manage their benefits.
The low income people who do have direct access to internet use the online tool with the help of staff/volunteers at food pantries, Community Action Agencies, WIC clinics, Job Centers, etc.
ACCESS is also used by health care providers, schools, faith-based agencies, and other community-based agencies to establish temporary enrollment for children and pregnant women.
Increased program participation:
Since the roll out of ACCESS self service web portal, we have seen an increased member participation in different social service programs. The project has served as an effective outreach tool for expanding coverage, and assisting front line workers in assisting low income residents of Wisconsin. Some key statistics to this point are highlighted below:
Since it went live, ACCESS now processes over 11,000 self-screenings a month, with the amount increasing monthly. Nearly 598,000 screenings have been performed with residents being found eligible for at least one program in nearly 578,000 screenings as of end of August 2010.
Since September 2005 until the end of August 2010, ACCESS users have created over 317,300 secured accounts to query their benefit information.
ACCESS has also enabled over 560,000 online applications to be submitted to CARES Worker Web since the release of “Apply For Benefits” in June 2006. More applications for the different social service programs are now received through ACCESS than through in person, phone and the mail combined. Over 58% of applications are now received via ACCESS. ACCESS has enabled community partners to play an increased role in helping people apply for benefits. Community partners now help with over 6.0% of ACCESS applications, increasing significantly from just 0.2% just three years ago. About 87% of applications for the new health insurance plan for childless adults are received through ACCESS. Since this program is centrally administered and only supports phone and online channels, ACCESS has helped effectively manage the overwhelming response to this program. Wisconsin’s program participation rate has increased and its error rate has decreased since the implementation of ACCESS. ACCESS is believed to be one of several factors contributing to these improvements.
The “Report My Changes” module has allowed over 100,000 changes to be reported.
The “Renew My Benefits” module has allowed over 64,000 renewals to be submitted.
Value delivered. Business benefit received through the project:
ACCESS has worked to increase program participation by simplifying the process to apply for and retain services and by reducing the stigma associated with applying for and receiving public assistance. ACCESS has also helped improve customer service by increasing the accessibility of information on programs and policies to clients, introducing new channels for clients, and by providing services to customers outside of traditional business hours. The workload on local agency eligibility workers has been decreased by reducing time spent responding to inquiries, reducing time spent on data entry, and by providing a simplified process for workers to process changes.
Solution transfer to other states in US:
The success of ACCESS in Wisconsin has led to the transfer and implementation of this system in other US states, including New York, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado and New Mexico.