By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
On Feb. 29, Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration launched a new one-stop-shopping website for state benefits that was designed to make life easier for the one-fourth of Kentuckians eligible to use it. Instead, it caused an unprecedented disruptions of services after thousands received erroneous letters notifying them they would no longer receive their benefits.
Deborah Yetter of The Courier-Journal has reported extensively on the problem, with stories of Kentuckians who have lost their benefits and found it nearly impossible to get help because of hours-long waits in the state benefits offices and a phone system that tells them to call back later.
The website, called Benefind, can be used to apply for Medicaid, the Kentucky Children’s Health Insurance Program (KCHIP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, once known as food stamps) and Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP).
The problem goes beyond those programs. The 500 paid Kynectors, who help Kentuckians use the Kynect health-insurance exchange, have not been able to help because federal regulations require participants who use multiple services to first go though the Department of Community Based Services, the state agency that manages Benefind. As of now, Kynectors can only help Kentuckians who have never received other state benefits.
Health advocates have called the launch of Benefind a “disaster.” At a March 31 news conference, Bevin, along with health officials from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and a Deloitte Consulting official, acknowledged the widespread problems and said they were working tirelessly to correct them.
“Our primary focus is to ensure that we deliver, as seamlessly as possible, as safely as possible, as expediently as possible all the benefits that folks expect and need from the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Bevin said.
State officials at the news conference said they had worked with federal officials to extend benefits through April, so that no one should be cut off from Medicaid or SNAP if they qualified for those benefits in March. The state has also stopped automatic letters generated by Benefind.
In addition, they have updated websites and changed the phone message to better explain what is going on; extended the re-certification time frame for SNAP benefits from six months to 12 months, allowing those cases to continue with a simple review instead of a client interview; hired an additional 185 people to help with the deluge of telephone calls and visits to the local state benefit offices; and Deloitte has assigned trainers to every county to help the DCBS staff.
Officials have encouraged the public to log on to the Benefind self-service portal at https://benefind.ky.gov/ to ease the burden on processing centers.
So, what happened?
Deloitte built Benefind under the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear at a cost of $101.5 million to replace an outdated eligibility system. Deborah Sills of Deloitte said at the news conference that they believed the system was ready to launch at the end of February, but “there were some issues that didn’t present themselves until after the system went live.”
However, Ryland Barton of Louisville’s WFPL reported that on Feb. 25, a 27-page “Worker Portal Defect Workaround Guide” was distributed to DCBS staff showing that the administration knew there would be problems with the rollout.
But the cabinet says a guide like this is standard procedure.
“Deloitte says a guide like that is standard operating procedure when you’re dealing with a huge system rollout like this,” Doug Hogan, spokesman for the cabinet said in an e-mail. “It’s a new system and (this was) a guide to help staff navigate the system better and help them work though issues they might encounter. Additionally, there were these same types of documents for the original rollout of Kynect.”
Bevin’s administration explained that the problem has been caused by an automatic review of cases where information from Kynect and the old eligibility system didn’t match.
“Cases where information between the Kynect case and legacy case did not match (for example, household composition or income) are required to be managed by a state agent before they can be acted upon by agents or Kynectors,” Jessica Ditto, Bevin’s communications director, told WFPL in an e-mail. “This constraint has been placed to protect program and data integrity — plus, this is required by federal law.”
Ditto told Barton about 51,000 cases are under review, and noted that once the conflicting data has been reconciled, “the cases will become open for Kynectors and agents again, just as before.”
Sills told reporters that Benefind had not been altered in any way from its original 2014 design and affirmed Bevin’s stance that the move to Benefind had nothing to do with his administrations decision to close Kynect and move to the federal exchange.
“None of these issues are caused by any changes the current administration has made to the system’s purpose or design,” Sills said.
However, Beshear said in a news release that Kynect and Benefind were meant to work together, not for Benefind to take over signing people up for Medicaid.
“The Benefind program was developed to complement Kynect, the state-run exchange,” Beshear said in the release. “Although he attempts to blame the ‘prior administration,’ Governor Bevin’s administration mismanaged the launch of this new system, and in doing so, created a disastrous situation for thousands of families in Kentucky.”
Bevin and Deloitte say the system was always designed to support Medicaid enrollees. “Benefind is Kynect, Kynect is Benefind,” Bevin said at the news conference.
Not really, says Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of groups supporting Kynect, “For people needing Medicaid coverage and other social benefits right now, there is no right door for access, let alone ‘one door’,” the group said in a press release Wednesday. “Kynect was built to provide access to health insurance and Medicaid enrollment; and Benefind was built to enhance Kynect with additional social services benefits. While they’re part of the same system, they provide different essential functions.”
However, Hogan noted in the e-mail that page 15 of a training document for Kynectors originally posted November 2015 “clearly shows that Benefind was intended to process all Medicaid plans, even Qualified Health Plans…it was truly designed to process all benefits.”
Beshear and his advocacy group, Save Kentucky Healthcare, have also released a one-minute video entitled “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It” criticizing the Bevin administration’s rollout of the system.