Politics

Thousands of Kentuckians have erroneously received letters notifying them that they would no longer receive state benefits like Medicaid or food stamps.

Meanwhile, access to the new state system that handles those programs has been restricted and service spotty in many instances, leading to long wait times, frustration and a loss of benefits for countless Kentuckians.

At a news conference Thursday, Gov. Matt Bevin and members of his administration acknowledged myriad problems with Benefind, which operates as the umbrella portal for Kentuckians to apply for nearly all entitlement services.

The administration also acknowledged it knew of problems with the system before its Feb. 29 launch. Many of those problems are detailed in a “defect guide” sent to state employees days before the system’s rollout and obtained by WFPL News.

Health care advocates and members of former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration have said the difficulties are due in part to Benefind taking over as the portal for expanded Medicaid services. They’ve said the system wasn’t designed to support Medicaid enrollees, a claim both the Bevin administration and Deloitte Consulting — which helped developed the $100 million system during the past few years — flatly denied.

More than 400,000 Kentuckians have signed up for expanded Medicaid through Kynect, the state health exchange implemented by Beshear. Bevin has promised to dismantle the service, leaving Benefind in its place.

On Thursday, Bevin was adamant that Benefind — which was also created by the Beshear administration — was always intended to be the new entry point for all Medicaid applicants.

“Despite what you’ve been told, it was absolutely intended to be a vehicle through which people signed up for every single benefit that they might need, so that there would be no wrong door for entry. That would include Medicaid,” Bevin said.

The Bevin administration said it’s working to rectify the problems, hiring 185 new workers in the Department for Community Based Services to deal with long wait times in call centers and field offices around the state.

But questions still remain over why Benefind was rolled out on Feb. 29 in the first place.

A 27-page document distributed to DCBS staff on Feb. 25 entitled “Worker Portal Defect Workaround Guide” shows that the administration knew there would be problems with the Benefind rollout.

In an upbeat email sent along with the document, DCBS Family Support Director Virginia Carrington told workers to “look through it and get familiar with the document.”

“With the implementation of a system as large as this, we unfortunately can’t make it perfect right out of the gate!” she wrote.

The document — which is posted in full below — lists scores of potential problems in the portal that DCBS uses to help people get benefits in Kentucky. The problems are wide-ranging. According to the document, a person using the system cannot correctly indicate if an applicant is living in another state besides Kentucky. And there are known difficulties signing up different children of the same family to different programs in the cabinet.

One defect reads:

“The task is being created for Medicaid Retroactive Ineligibility, but case worker has no control on whether to actually send it to claims at this point.”

The document then advises DCBS workers:

“The task is being created, but case workers have no control on whether to actually send it to claims at this point. Until resolution, task will be referred to claims workers to make the necessary determination from the task.”

A spokesperson for Deloitte said Thursday that this problem isn’t responsible for the cancellation notices that went out erroneously.

Another defect reads:

“Two claims created for same case with the same primary liable individual in both cases. Case is no longer receiving benefits and payment agreement is set on the first claim. Nothing gets paid on the 2nd payment. This cause the second claim to become delinquent, even when the first claim has been paid by the client.” (sic)

When asked why the system was rolled out when the cabinet knew there would be problems, Deborah Sills with Deloitte said the workaround guide is a “normal process for a large system implementation project.”

“All large systems that go into production have some issues,” she said. “None of the issues that we include with workarounds for caseworkers are issues that would affect benefits — either the eligibility determination of those benefits or the payment of those benefits at all.”

Bevin said he wouldn’t have rolled out the program “if we had thought that there would be this degree of problems.”

Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, secretary of the Health and Family Services Cabinet, said because of the problems, anyone who received Medicaid benefits in March would now automatically have coverage through April.

Fighting back tears during the Thursday news conference, Glisson said the administration understands this is a human problem as much as a technological one.

“We are doing everything in our power to prevent the delay of benefits to our clients,” she said. “The people we serve are not simply numbers on a spreadsheet.”

James McNair of WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting contributed to this story.

Benefind “Defect Guide”

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