Politics

Kentucky’s state auditor has released a report detailing problems with last year’s rollout of Benefind, the new online portal for state benefits like health care, food stamps and cash assistance.

Both the administrations of Gov. Matt Bevin, who took office nearly three months before the rollout, and that of former Gov. Steve Beshear, which spearheaded the development of the new system, had identified problems with Benefind before its introduction.

But Michael Goins, communications director for Republican Auditor Mike Harmon, placed the blame for Benefind’s problems squarely on Beshear.

“There had not been proper testing by the prior administration near the end of their administration before implementation of Benefind in the system,” he said. “And then once the system was implemented by the current administration, these problems that had not been tested for by the prior administration cropped up.”

Beshear’s health cabinet approved plans for international consulting firm Deloitte to build a $100 million system in 2012 and trained state workers to operate Benefind before leaving office at the end of 2015. Bevin’s health cabinet delayed launching the system until Feb. 29, 2016.

The system opened to long wait times that led to a backlog of 50,000 cases and at least 25,000 automated notifications telling enrollees their benefits would be cut off. At the time, Beshear blamed the problems in part on the inclusion of health benefits in the system, a charge Bevin’s administration has denied.

The auditor’s report detailed several problems, including:

  • distributing letters telling consumers their health coverage had been cut off when it had not.
  • “instances of statewide disruption to citizens’ health coverage, food stamps and other related assistance.”
  • case information between Benefind and the old system didn’t match up, requiring case workers to make individual corrections to information.

The cabinet was able to clear up the 50,000-case backlog over the summer by creating a dedicated call center where 91 workers from the Department of Community-Based Services traveled to Frankfort and worked through the cases in a matter of weeks.

The report is contained within the first volume of Auditor Mike Harmon’s annual statewide audit of the commonwealth and is entitled “The Cabinet For Health And Family Services Did Not Ensure The Benefind Application Was Completely Functional And The Staff Were Sufficiently Trained Prior To Implementation.”

Bevin’s administration acknowledged it knew of some problems with the system before its Feb. 29 launch. Some problems were detailed in a “workaround guide” sent to state employees two days before the system’s rollout, according to the auditor’s office.

“This guide was only provided to case workers in draft form on Feb. 25, 2016, approximately two working days prior to implementation,” states the auditor’s report.

According to the audit, the cabinet then went forward with the launch because they were told by the U.S. Cabinet for Medicaid Services that the system had to go live by Feb. 29, 2016.

“As a result, there were both known and unanticipated defects within the system at implementation,” the auditor’s report states.

Before Benefind, users seeking benefits besides health care had to enroll in person at Department for Community-Based Services offices around the state.

Those seeking health care through Kynect were able to sign up in person, online or with the help of a Kynector, state contractors who helped people navigate the system.

After the implementation of Benefind, Kynectors were unable to sign people up for health coverage if applicants had ever received other state benefits — effectively diminishing the number of state workers who could help sign people up for coverage.

According to the auditor’s report, “this change severely limited the ability of Kynectors to assist citizens with applying for benefits and placed a heavier burden on CHFS staff to address concerns.”

In a response from the cabinet included with the auditor’s report, officials stated that Benefind’s problems were the “product of unacceptable planning decisions, poor design, and ineffective testing” — all attributed to previous Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration.

“The current administration firmly believes that it exercised all appropriate due diligence and could not have anticipated the significant problems encountered based on review of test materials, representations from [Deloitte], discussions with senior management from the prior administration, and information obtained from our federal partners,” the response stated.

The cabinet says sporadic problems remain for some of Benefind’s most vulnerable users, such as those applying for Medicaid long-term care and refugee services.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.