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srs7Atvz ,y’lims in both size and importance. About four million Texans rely on some form of social services at a cost of nearly $22 billion a year in state and federal funds. State health commissioners have handed this responsibility primarily to the 24 healthcare and technology experts who comprise what’s known within the HHSC as the integrated eligibility study team. “These folks have really done the frontline work on this project,” HHSC spokesperson Stephanie Goodman said of the team. “They played a very integral role in developing this [integrated call center] proposal!’ In addition to state administrators, however, the group includes at least seven contractors from private companies, including Cisco Systems and two telecommunications firms, according to internal HHSC documents and meeting agendas obtained by the Observer through the Texas Public Information Act. In early March, the HHSC released a proposal that filled in many of the previously missing details of the call-center plan. The agency termed it a “call-center business case.” The report proposed closing more than 200 of the 380 local offices around the state and firing 4,500 state eligibility workers shift toward a leaner, privately run gatekeeper to state social services. The business case estimated that this model would save $389 million during the next four years. The 24-member integrated eligibility study team, according to several sources, wrote the call-center business case almost entirely. That may have led to conflicts of interest. One of the report’s revelations was the HHSC’s plan to use the 2-1-1 telephone system as the access number for the call centers. Much like 9-1-1 and 4-1-1, the federal government has designated 2-1-1 as a healthcare information hotline. In 2001, the state contracted with the Chicagobased telecommunications company eLoyalty to set up Texas’ version of 2-1-1. The system was launched last summer amid a flurry of press releases. Under the call-center plan, 2-1-1 would be expanded from a simple info hotline to the main number that needy Texans would call to tap into all state social services. This almost certainly will provide eLoyalty with more continued on page 19 Time runs short for state social services workers at a public hearing in Austin. 5/21/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7