DENVER (AP) – A proposal to make it easier to apply for state entitlement programs — a sort of one-stop-shop for entitlements ranging from welfare payments to food stamps — has turned political.
The Pueblo Chieftain reports that Republicans say the change could cost the state millions by qualifying virtually every eligible citizen for a gamut of entitlements. Democrats insist the change would cut red tape and not expand eligibility, just make easier for the needy to receive benefits.
“I believe we are quite generous with our availability of all the programs. I can see there’s a place for that as a safety net,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “But they’re trying to put it on steroids and make sure that everyone who might qualify is on it. We need not go out and market these systems and find ways to aggressively push them toward people. To me, it feeds an entitlement mentality.”
Democrats contend residents who are eligible for safety-net programs shouldn’t be excluded from them simply because they don’t know where to apply.
A one-stop Internet approach “would be a way to really cut through the red tape and help families and children that are eligible for these state and federal monies,” said Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, who also serves on the legislative oversight committee for the exchange.
“It’s not going to result in people having access to programs they are not qualified for. Instead of having them apply in several different locations, I see it as beneficial streamlining and efficiency.”
The entitlement discussion comes as Colorado implements a health-insurance exchange, a marketplace for insurance plans required under the new federal health care law.
Colorado’s exchange is in development. An oversight committee composed of 10 state lawmakers — five Democrats and five Republicans — also is guiding the state through the changing health care law and construction of an exchange.
A subcommittee tackling eligibility and enrollment for the exchange’s online portal has developed four recommendations for what the website should include. One of the options would qualify Medicaid applicants for other entitlements such as food assistance and Temporary Aid to Needy Families.
The federal health care law requires exchanges to have an online eligibility application that first screens the applicant for Medicaid eligibility. Under the Colorado subcommittee’s proposal, applications for the other entitlements automatically would be processed. That is raising concerns among some lawmakers.
“There’s a fork in the road here between the path that leads to a free-market health care portal for obtaining coverage and a road that leads to promoting a social-welfare state with a one-stop Internet portal for applying for every social program that federal, state and local governments provide,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who serves on the legislative committee overseeing the exchange.
According to an issue paper of the subcommittee, 70 percent of Coloradans who qualify for Medicaid through the portal likely would qualify for some other benefit program, and the resulting cost to the state is unpredictable. The issue paper also noted that the state would be spared an unknown amount of money by processing entitlement applications at a single point of contact.
“I think maybe the Republicans have more of a philosophical objection to the concept of these entitlements,” McCann said. “To me that’s a basic fairness issue. If (Republicans) have a fundamental problem with the qualification for entitlements, then that’s what we should be talking about. But taking the eligibility level we’ve already set and saying it will make it too easy for people to get the benefits they are eligible for is not a very convincing argument to me. People who qualify should have access.”
No timetable has been set for a decision streamlining entitlement applications. The state hopes to have the insurance exchange operational by the end of 2013.
“In an ideal world, the (health exchange and human services) systems would be integrated,” said Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, who sponsored SB200. “Right now the (exchange) board should focus on its core mission, and that is to help Coloradans purchase health insurance.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)