Health care ushers in secure access for citizen e-services
Building Bridges in Michigan
Equally involved in moving identities online safely and securely is the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. NSTIC has doled out funding for a number of trials, including two separate state government efforts to vet the identities of citizens online.
In Michigan, MI Bridges – pronounced ‘My’ bridges – is seeking to provide citizens with an online portal from which they can access a range of benefits. The timing for the new system seems spot on.
“We had growing caseloads here in Michigan at our local offices, so the Department of Human Services and the Department of Technology Management created an online application for public benefits,” says Dave Akerly, director of communications for Michigan’s Department of Human Services. “The current process is manual and it can be time intensive, labor intensive and challenging for staff.”
Efficiency isn’t just important to the state or federal employee in charge of processing the application – it is vital to the citizen as well. “From a client/citizen standpoint, the current manual system can delay financial benefits or other services requiring identity proofing,” says Akerly.
MI Bridges is set to provide a number of advantages for both state agencies and the citizens they serve. “They get anytime, anywhere access to apply for our various benefits programs and to check on their status – both with their case and their application,” explains Akerly. “It shortens the time our staff spends answering phone calls, and will cut down on the number of in-person visits.”
According to Akerly’s estimation, MI Bridges is handling 7,000 online applications per week. The system will act as the front door for Human Services, which processes more than $6 billion annually – a majority of which comes in the form of benefits assistance. “That money is taxpayer dollars that you want to be assured is going to those who are not only eligible, but are also the person who they claim to be. That idea makes this pilot very important,” says Akerly.
“About 20% of our benefit applications are coming online, making the identity-vetting process more and more important,” explains Akerly.
Akerly goes on to explain that MI Bridges takes a multi-layered approach to the identity vetting process. “Our initial, key eligibility determination is vetting the citizen so that we can then serve people by need, based on their identity. The identity proofing process is going to first validate that the citizen exists as an individual with a given name, address and date of birth,” he explains. “Then the user will be presented with a knowledge-based authentication quiz in a multiple choice format to provide the necessary identity authentication.”
The knowledge-based identity quiz applies to things that only the citizen would know, not details that a stranger could pull out of another person’s wallet. This is where the likes of LexisNexis and other data aggregators provide assistance.
“The likelihood is that only you will be able to answer these knowledge-based questions,” says Akerly. “We think the pilot has the potential to improve overall program integrity, prevent identity theft, and in so doing decrease our processing times for applications and lower administrative costs.”
Residents can opt out of the knowledge-based aspect of the process, but doing so will likely extend the application process, Akerly says.
Michigan’s pilot is designed to seek out those who try to game the system and assume someone else’s identity. It’s a practice that could also save money for the state and its residents that could otherwise have been lost to fraud.
“We’ve found that it’s a lot easier to find out that someone is being untruthful up front and not award benefits, than it is to try to close something down later down the line when the state and federal government are already out a lot of money and the chances to recoup are much lower,” says Akerly.
The program seems to be paying off. For every dollar spent on the fraud reduction portion of the program, the state has saved $25, Akerly says. “It has been very good at rooting out identity fraud on the front end,” he adds.