Health Care Reform May Expand Opportunities for Benefits Enrollment

Sep 28, 2010

 By Elizabeth Lower-Basch and Crystal Canales

Health care reform is changing more than health coverage for low-income families--it has the potential to change the way families apply for and receive other human services benefits. On Sept. 22, the Coalition to Promote Access and Opportunity hosted an audio conference titled Game Change - Health Reform Allows Enrollment in Other Benefits to Leapfrog, which included some of the nation's leading experts on health care reform. Speakers shared their knowledge on what changes health care reform would have on low-income families' access to benefits.

States are now in the process of developing their own rules and guidelines on how to best approach the insurance exchanges and increased access to Medicaid that will take effect on January 1st, 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.   As they do so, they have the opportunity to design systems that would allow people applying for health insurance coverage to apply for other  benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) and to learn about their eligibility for programs like the earned income tax credit or financial aid

As Sam Karp, co-chair of the Health Information Technology Policy & Standards Committees Enrollment Workgroup pointed out on the call,  "once you fill out the Medicaid application, there are only four more questions you have to ask for food stamps."

Both Andrew Allison, executive director for the Kansas Health Policy Authority and Jason Helgerson, Medicaid Director for the state of Wisconsin, agreed that a horizontally integrated program where applicants can apply for health insurance and other assistance benefits simultaneously should be the goal for states preparing for health care exchanges. However, Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at Families USA, cautioned that a "patient attitude" may be needed, noting that many states will need to focus on ensuring that they have a "smooth working system that allows Medicaid, SCHIP and the new premium tax credits to all work together " before expanding their systems to handle other benefits.

All the speakers agreed that now was a good time for advocates to make their voices heard by the policymakers who are planning for health care reform implementation.


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