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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Friday, January 27, 2012

Health Care Reform Presents Opportunity for Human Services

The Illinois Department of Human Services -- like all state human service agencies -- must seize the opportunity to expand public benefits through implementation efforts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Signed into law in March 2010, health care reform requires states to design a system using data in real time to determine eligibility for the 2014 expansion of Medicaid and for private insurance subsidies. The ACA's vision of a single, user-friendly system applies to human service programs such as cash assistance, food stamps and child care, as well.

States cannot pass up this opportunity to increase the number of eligible people who actually receive public benefits. Enrollment in public benefits long has been described as a cumbersome and frustrating process that drives away potential recipients. The ACA offers the chance to streamline the process and create efficiencies that will improve customer experience.

While state health departments are working feverishly to create new systems, many state human service agencies are either unengaged or minimally involved in the process. Here are five reasons why they should get involved now:

1. Expand coverage in human services: 
  • States can use data already collected by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and other programs to help expand health coverage under the ACA. Similarly, human services departments can reach eligible people who aren't enrolled by using outreach and data systems required under the ACA.

2. Reduce administrative costs:
  • States spend a lot of time and money collecting and verifying the same information over and over again because agencies don't share information. With a central data hub created through the ACA, states will need to process only one information request.

3. Reduce error rates:
  • Less data will need to be re-entered, which means fewer opportunities for error. Cross-checks against other sources such as tax returns and records wages also will cut down on errors.

4. Improve the customer experience:
  • The ACA outlines a system that allows applicants to apply, recertify and check the status of their benefits through multiple venues: online, in person, by mail or by phone. Records will be checked in real time so applicants can get approved while they wait.

5.  Leverage federal funds to modernize systems:
  • For a limited time, federal funding will defray the costs of developing health care exchanges and improving Medicaid eligibility systems. This funding can also go toward integrated eligibility systems involving state human services departments.

The rationale behind integrating human services into the ACA-based eligibility system is clear. All that's needed now is commitment from state human services departments to make it happen. To find out more, visit the Coalition for Access and Opportunity's website. 

By the Policy & Advocacy Team at Heartland Alliance
Originally posted on the HeartBeat blog here


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