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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

January 15, 2015 at 6:25 AM

King County’s one-stop shopping for government benefits

Joshua Stanton stopped by a King County office yesterday to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. “I’m going to be able to get my teeth taken care of,” said

Joshua Stanton (Jonathan Martin / Seattle Times)

Joshua Stanton (Jonathan Martin / Seattle Times)

Stanton, 30, who lives on Capitol Hill.

By the time he walked out a bit later, Stanton got a check up for much more. The office he visited, at the King Street Center in Pioneer Square, can help people check their eligibility for an array of government benefits, including subsidized health insurance, food stamps, child care subsidies, federal and city energy assistance, and new reduced fare card on Metro.

It turns out that Stanton qualified for the Metro’s ORCA Lift, the reduced fare program set to take effect in March. “It makes things so much easier,” said Stanton, who is in King County drug diversion court for a 2014 criminal case.

His visit was timely. In addition to the new reduced fare, the deadline for new and renewed health care insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare – is February 15. King County did an amazing job last year, signing up nearly 200,000 people, and it is making a strong push to spread the word and get as many people signed up for both, ASAP.

Anyone who has signed up for government benefits knows that it is difficult and time-consuming, so getting it all done at once, for an array of benefits, minimizes the pain. King County Executive Dow Constantine said this model is based on the idea that citizens are “customers,” and government services are “products.” “We want people to get services for which they are eligible, and which help them succeed in life,” he said.

Click here for a list of locations across the county (caveat: not all sites have staff qualified to enroll people for all types of services).

This type of integration reminds me of the much-loved but sometimes-mocked customer service focus of former Governor Gary Locke, who set a target of processing driver’s licenses in something like 15 minutes. Constantine has clearly picked up the unsexy but very welcomed goal of making this part of government more efficient.

In a region with skyrocketing rent, this focus can save struggling county residents lots of money. King County public health manager Daphne Pie, who helped mobilize the county’s health insurance enrollment army, rattled off the potential savings for a single person making about $23,000 a year: up to $200 a month in food assistance, about $75 on the every-other-month utility bills, and bus fares at about half the normal rate.

Sign-up for ORCA Lift begins next week. Cards begin to go out in February, and the fare reduction kicks in March 1, when all Metro fares are set to rise by about a quarter. For more information, go to Metro’s ORCA Lift FAQ page.

 

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