Cabinet says kinks are worked out of the state’s new public benefit system, but Republican lawmaker calls for contract review

Health officials assured lawmakers on Thursday that they had worked through the issues that led to the  rocky rollout of the state’s new public benefit system, but lawmakers pushed back with harsh criticism, with one Republican calling for the state attorney general’s office to examine the contract with the company who built it, Deborah Yetter reports for The Courier-Journal.

“It seems like our most vulnerable populations are the ones who have paid for the shortcomings,” Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, said of the system that caused “massive disruptions in public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps earlier this year,” Yetter writes. “Maybe that’s something the attorney general should take a look at,” he said.

Carroll, co-chairman of the joint Program Review and Investigations Committee, which held Thursday’s hearing, suggested that Attorney General Andy Beshear look into whether the state could recoup some of the funds it paid Deloitte Consulting, the company that built the $100-million system known as Benefind, Yetter writes.

Benefind is meant to be a one-stop shop website for public benefits, like food stamps and Medicaid. It was initiated under former Gov. Steve Beshear. Its launch was delayed twice, once on Dec. 4, under Beshear and again on Dec. 28, under Gov. Matt Bevin. It went live on Feb. 29 and ended up causing a “massive disruption” in public benefits that has taken months to rectify. Kentucky paid Deloitte $3.5 million for the delays,  Kevin Wheatley reports for CN|2 Pure Politics.

Deloitte principal Kevin Pollari said the firm has “stepped up the best we can” to fix the problems, offering 120 employees to help train cabinet staff, providing staff to help the cabinet process the 50,000 backlogged cases that were disrupted during the launch, and implementing a rapid-response team for cases that required urgent attention, Wheatley reports.

“Some lawmakers said they had been inundated with complaints from people who lost health coverage, food stamps or other important public assistance,” Yetter reports. In an earlier story, she wrote about one case:

  Good, affordable health insurance was essential for Harry Mudd when he retired in January.
  And he found it. Using Kynect, Kentucky’s health insurance exchange, Mudd, 61, and his wife, Ginger Owen, bought a high-quality plan for about $560 a month, the additional cost offset by a tax subsidy under the federal Affordable Care Act.
  But after Kentucky launched benefind, a new public benefit system, their coverage was disrupted and the Louisville couple was startled to find that they had been enrolled in Medicaid – the public health plan for low-income and disabled Kentuckians. And they lost the $637 federal subsidy that helped pay for their private plan.
  Mudd and Owen, after repeated attempts, got Medicaid canceled. But they now must pay $1,200 a month for their private health coverage – more than double what they had budgeted – and despite multiple calls, lengthy waits on hold and complaints to various officials, they could not get the tax credit restored.

Rep. Jeff Taylor, D-Hopkinsville, wondered why state officials didn’t have a contingency plan when they realized soon after the launch of Benefind that it was resulting in widespread problems.

Cabinet officials said the scope of the problems with Benefind weren’t immediately apparent to the new administration, though they made it a priority once they realized it, Yetter reports.

Bernard “Deck” Decker, the cabinet’s technology director, agreed, saying,”It probably took us a month and a half to get an idea of the magnitude of how bad this was. It was extremely bad.”

Decker noted that the backlog of some 50,000 cases waiting to be processed has been cleared, hours-long wait times for calls have been cut to an average of 20 to 25 minutes, and state workers have reviewed and addressed some 200,000 letters (many wrongly sent) that were generated by the system that told consumers they were loosing benefits or demanding information already provided, Yetter writes.

Two health advocates agreed that many of the problems have been corrected, but said others persist, Yetter reports. Consumers are still getting letters with misinformation, still having difficulty accessing benefits, and still spending hours on the phone trying to get to a person with appropriate knowledge to help them, said Cara Stewart, a lawyer with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, defended the administration, saying the system has the potential to be more efficient and save the state money, despite current criticisms.

“I think you guys are to be commended,” he told the officials. “There would have been a lot of second-guessing of Dwight D. Eisenhower when he stormed Normandy.”

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