Drawing on Technology to Increase Benefits Program Applications
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Drawing on Technology to Increase Benefits Program Applications

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April 16, 2010

Legal Services for the Elderly (LSE), in partnership with Maine’s Office of Elder Services, Eastern Area Agency on Aging (EAAA), SeniorsPlus, and Spectrum Generations, has implemented an innovative, cost-efficient way to help seniors enroll in public benefits programs: mobile benefits information kiosks. Drawing on easy-to-use touch-screen technology, the kiosks help seniors and younger adults with disabilities throughout this largely rural state find and apply for benefits that may help them save money.

Who was the target audience?

People with Medicare who are potentially eligible for public benefit programs.

What did they do?

The IT specialist at EAAA created kiosks (comprised of a touch-screen computer and printer) that allow seniors to learn about and even apply for benefits programs online. The kiosks can be moved from place to place, and are set up at sites that seniors frequent, e.g. public library, Goodwill stores, and congregate meal centers.

Some of the essential characteristics included in the design and implementation of the kiosks are the following:

  • Maximizing benefits application options. When users touch the screen, they have three options: to visit Maine’s private label BenefitsCheckUp, the Medicare home page or the website of Maine’s Office of Elder Services. People with Medicare and their families can use the kiosks to apply for any benefits that have online applications. For those benefits that do not have online forms, the applicant can find paper forms nearby. The only exception to this is the application for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which must be submitted via local Community Action Agencies.
  • Keeping costs down. The kiosks are $1600 a piece (includes computer, printer and software). One challenge LSE noted was related to an initial donation of 24 computers for this initiative. Upon receiving these donated computers, EAAA realized the technology was too dated for use as kiosks, and it cost time and energy to dispose of the computers – a caution for others who may rely upon donations of equipment.
  • Providing additional support as needed. Volunteers are present at the kiosk sites during specific hours to assist people with using the technology and submitting applications. These volunteers also help to assure seniors that their personal information is kept confidential and secure – a common concern among applicants, who have been educated not to readily share such information.
  • Linking with other outreach efforts. The “branding” of the kiosks has been consistent with the overall campaign in Maine to increase identification and enrollment of low-income seniors and younger adults with disabilities into benefits programs. LSE and its partners developed a series of TV commercials featuring a relatable father/daughter team talking about accessing benefits; this same pair appears on the first screen of the kiosks with the caption, “Are you saving all the money you can?” The kiosks are promoted in flyers, newsletters of community agencies, television interviews, and by word of mouth. Additional outreach is conducted via a mobile van, which visits town offices in Central and Western Maine (48 trips are scheduled for 2010). The consistent message used in all outreach activities is that benefits programs are not about receiving handouts, but about helping seniors to save money.

Currently eight kiosks serve communities around Maine, including the mid-sized city Bangor, several small cities (Belfast, Rockland), and numerous rural counties. LSE hopes that increased funding will lead to more kiosks.

What was the result?

The kiosks have been greeted positively in communities and by those agencies serving seniors. The overarching campaign to promote public benefits programs for seniors – via television commercials, the mobile van, and the kiosks themselves – has generated increased interest in these programs and support for enrollment efforts. For example, after viewing commercials about the kiosks, the Eastern Maine Development Corporation has purchased the kiosk equipment to house in one of their centers. And since implementing the mobile van, there has been a 52% increase in the number of individuals reached.

Another positive output from the effort is the increased collaboration between LSE and other community agencies. By providing training on Maine’s private label BenefitsCheckUp for a wide range of partners at two Maine Medicare Workgroup meetings, Maine has been able to maximize the number of people with Medicare served.

For more information

Anne Smith
Legal Services for the Elderly
5 Wabon Street
Augusta, Maine 04338
(207) 621-0087
asmith@mainelse.org

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