Special Populations : ACCESS Wisconsin

Program/Practice Name: ACCESS Wisconsin
Agency Name: Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) Division of Health Care Financing

Contact Information:

ACCESS Wisconsin
Department of Health and Family Services
Division of Health Care Financing
1 W. Wilson Street
Madison, WI 53701
(800) 362-3002

Autumn Arnold
(608) 266-0157

Type of Program/Practice: ACCESS Wisconsin is a fast and easy-to-use Internet tool that can help individuals determine the low- or no-cost health, nutrition, and other subsidy programs for which they might be eligible.

Program/Practice Description: ACCESS Wisconsin also can be used to apply online for FoodShare, Medicaid/BadgerCare, and the Family Planning Waiver Program. Enrolled individuals also can obtain information on the status of their benefits for a number of programs, as well as report changes in income, expenses, and household composition online.

Innovations and Results: From the beginning of the initiative, DHFS worked with community partners and clients to develop a user-friendly tool. Through extensive use of focus groups, they were able to gain credibility not only among end users, but also among those responsible for developing the Web site. This level of understanding helped the team ensure that the end product met the needs of low-income Wisconsin residents. Although it was time consuming to engage community and client partners, the team built it into the development process, helping to shape the priorities for the infrastructure. In addition, the use of demonstration sites to pilot the program provided the team with readily available test sites and instantaneous feedback. There is also a dedicated Web page for community partners, providing a link to an online tutorial as well as informational and marketing materials.

Funding: So far, development of ACCESS has cost approximately $6 million. System maintenance likely will total $150,000 annually. The costs of the development and upgrades were funded jointly by the Food and Nutrition Service grant and the State. However, following the success of ACCESS, the State has provided funding for ongoing, incremental costs of maintenance and enhancements. The State also has hired a full-time, permanent outreach coordinator.

Tips to Implementation: Branding the tool and the resultant promotional materials have been extremely helpful in spreading the word about ACCESS. Agencies across the State are encouraging DHFS to produce publications at each phase of the project to help highlight the new capabilities. Marketing materials can be ordered by agencies and community partners online at no charge. They also are distributed at statewide coalition meetings, and DHFS is looking to connect with other groups, such as emergency rooms and Federal Qualified Health Centers, that have not been tied into the ACCESS system in the past.

Keys to Success: During the tool design phase, several decisions proved to be key to the success of ACCESS:

  • All materials are written at a fourth grade reading level. This style and the ample use of graphics make it easy to use for those who may be less familiar with Web applications or have difficulty reading.
  • The screening tool should take a maximum of 15 minutes; the application should take between 30 and 40 minutes. This time limit was based specifically on focus group feedback and how long clients are willing to spend on various activities.
  • The screening tool does not ask which public assistance programs the individual would like to screen for. The resulting eligibility list is based simply on the needs that arise through the applicant’s answers. The purpose of this is to connect clients to benefits for which they may not know they were eligible.

Successes: A strong link was deliberately established between the State’s electronic case management system, CARES, and ACCESS. This allows for a better flow of information between the applicant and the caseworker and should significantly reduce the need for data entry.

Challenges: With 72 counties and seven tribes responsible for implementing the program, there are often vast differences in the manner in which business is conducted. At the same time that DHFS launched ACCESS, the electronic case file system was put in place, further complicating implementation. Some sites have had little difficulty integrating the new practices, while others have struggled with adapting. DHFS has sent technical assistance consultants to help with issues as they arise. Team members also participate monthly in the Income Maintenance Advisory Committee, using it as a forum to address issues and share best practices, as well as gain credibility and buy-in from staff across the State.

Other Lessons Learned: Live demonstrations were critical in the early stages of implementation. However, as the project has continued, DHFS has become more selective in how it uses face-to-face resources. DHFS continues to visit programs to encourage ACCESS use, providing a quick demonstration, and an online tutorial is available for partners. Secondly, DHFS seems to be losing some potential clients between application and enrollment, which may be in part due to the requirement that applicants provide supporting documentation either through the mail or in person. The State is able to verify some information through data exchanges with other systems, including Social Security and Child Support. Other options, such as scanning, are being considered for documentation submission.

The following tools are associated with Access Wisconsin.  Please send us an email at upitoolkit@icfi.com for more information about these tools.

Short Introduction to ACCESS PowerPoint Presentation

Am I Eligible Fact Sheet

Apply for Benefits Fact Sheet

Check My Benefits Fact Sheet

Business Card – English

Business Card – Spanish

ACCESS Overview Flyer

Participant Information Brochure – English

Participant Information Brochure – Spanish

ACCESS Poster – English

ACCESS Poster – Spanish

Similar Types of Programs:

Access Florida

A growing number of States have implemented online applications. ACCESS Florida, which uses different software and a different business model than Wisconsin's ACCESS program, is another example of an online self-service tool.

ACCESS (Automated Community Connection to Economic Self-Sufficiency) cuts the processing time required for three economic assistance programs administered by the Department of Children and Families (DCF):

  • Medicaid
  • Food Stamps
  • Temporary Cash Assistance

In addition to the traditional methods of applying by mail or fax, ACCESS Florida allows individuals to check eligibility and apply online through www.myflorida.com/accessflorida.

In addition, all local DCF customer service centers provide Internet access so individuals can apply online. It takes an average of 30 minutes to complete the application.

ACCESS Florida services 1.2 million Food Stamp households, 70,000 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families families, and 1.7 million Medicaid recipients. More than 90 percent of all applications are now received online. As a result, the State has been able to reduce staff, saving $83 million annually in administrative costs.

Florida’s ACCESS program was named a winner of the Innovations in American Government Award on September 24, 2007, from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation.