By Derek D’Andre & Rhonda Paxson
The Colorado Benefits Management System (CBMS) is the eligibility determination system for the state of Colorado. CBMS incorporates eligibility determination for Medicaid, food assistance, cash assistance, and the children’s basic health plan, including case management functions such as work programs. Currently, anyone who wishes to apply for any of the public assistance programs must apply in person, during normal business hours, at one of the 64 County offices or approximately 155 medical assistance (MA) sites throughout the state that help administer the programs. Most individuals show up at one of the application intake sites without the proper paperwork and often do not know the programs for which they may be eligible. The citizens of Colorado need better access and more options for determining their potential eligibility.
The Colorado program eligibility and application kit (PEAK) was designed for this purpose. PEAK is a web – based portal designed to provide clients and community partners with a modern and easily accessible tool to apply for public assistance benefits. It currently allows new clients to determine program eligibility and allows existing patrons to check on their benefit. New functionality was released in May 2011, which allowed citizens to apply for benefits and change their public assistance data through PEAK. The CBMS staff worked in collaboration with several states to implement the PEAK system in a very short timeframe. While the base system came from Wisconsin, certain enhancements and project documentation were leveraged from New York, Georgia, and New Mexico, as well. By working in collaboration and leveraging valuable assets from other states, CBMS has been able to deliver a cost efficient, quicker to market (compared with custom development) solution to meet the needs of Coloradans.
The requirements and design phases of any software developing project can be time and labor intensive. CBMS was able to accelerate delivery of the system and reduce costs because requirements and design documents already existed and only required minimal changes to make them Colorado specific. Colorado PEAK is architecture as a true three tier/layer (logical and physical) object – oriented implementation. The presentation layer was developed using Java server Pages (JSP) and HTML and is delivered to the client through the Internet. It was developed using JEE technology and implemented using an IBM Web/Sphere application server. The data access layer was developed using the Oracle 10g relational database management system.
PEAK is already benefiting many stakeholders, but has had the most impact on the individuals who seek benefits, state staff supporting CBMS, and the county and MA site users who traditionally help those individuals apply for the various public assistance programs. PEAK is available 24/7 and has given individuals additional ways to access information about the programs. The program was implemented as a result of a growing number of low income residents who have access to computers and the Internet – whether at home, at work, at the public library, or at other community – based locations. The PEAK solution is available in English and Spanish, is written at a level accessible to most individuals, and provides basic instructions for people who have not used a computer previously. Assessments are anonymous and the application is self – guiding. Therefore, individuals do not need knowledge of the various programs. All of these factors help increase participation in the programs by identifying individuals who would not normally have been aware of the assistance available to them.
Once subsequent phases are completely rolled out, the workload on County and MA site users will be significantly reduced. Individuals will be able to apply for benefits online and change their personal information, virtually eliminating much of the data entry and upfront application intake process. Finally, PEAK utilizes on – screen edits and validations to help improve the accuracy of the data entered. This will benefit all parties by eliminating data entry errors that may result in and inaccurate determination of eligibility and benefits or may prolong the overall determination process.
The PEAK initiative has succeeded on many fronts. First was leveraging the benefits obtained through collaboration. The CBMS team is comprised of multiple Health and Human services (HHS) agency representatives who worked together to identify a technology solution to a very important customer/user business need. Second, the PEAK initiative leveraged existing leading practices from other states governmental agencies and then synergized the technical solution. Third, PEAK’s design focused on the customer’s needs and usability by being user – friendly and intuitive. Finally, PEAK’s development methodology was efficient and cost – effective when compared to standard software development life cycle projects. The full benefits related to customer service delivery and reduced caseworker activities are yet to be realized pending release of future functionality. However, this functionality is currently being piloted in several counties.
During the first four months of 2011, there was a monthly average of 3873 S. – assessments, 12,720 clients checking benefits, and 70 new applications. This resulted in a significant workload reduction on County staff who would normally assist citizens and clients with these tasks. Although no formal data has been collected, it appears that online applications can be processed by County workers in half the time it takes to process the application of a walk – in citizen. The PEAK solution can most accurately be described as a best practice that can be leveraged across government organizations that offer a similar set of services to a customer base with a similar set of needs. It is highly transferable because it is a solution that “sits on top” of the core system and can be integrated without significant changes to the core system. In addition, it can be easily tailored to the specific needs of other organizations. The PEAK solution promotes customer self – service, reduces caseworker workloads, and promotes cost effective case management.
The PEAK Initiative was also nominated for the 2011 Information Week Innovation Award.
To learn more about the PEAK program visit http://www.colorado.gov/PEAK or contact the Colorado Office of Information Technology (OIT) Colorado Benefits Management System via mail 639 E. 18TH Ave. Ste. 200 Denver, CO 80202.