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Bevin Administration Grilled Over Benefind Failures

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Officials in Gov. Matt Bevin's administration did not directly answer whether they plan to notify users of a problem-plagued state benefits system that they should reapply for services such as Medicaid and food assistance.

At a legislative hearing in Frankfort on Thursday, consumer advocates and state lawmakers grilled leadership from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which is in charge of operating Benefind, and consulting firm Deloitte, which built the system.

Benefind is the state’s one-stop portal for social services benefits. At its launch, the system wrongly sent out at least 25,000 letters to Kentuckians telling them they no longer qualified for benefits.

Pressed to answer why the administration did not reach out directly to individual users who got the notices, one official said such an effort would be burdensome.

“It was a massive amount of notifications,” said Adria Johnson, commissioner of the department of community-based services. “The approach we took was to make sure we had developed an internal rapid response ... and everyone giving the same message to clients calling in.”

But advocates at the hearing said that was insufficient.

“I had some consumers telling me that they were sharing insulin with their sisters because their benefits had been cut off,” said Cara Stewart, a lawyer from the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. “People did lose benefits in Kentucky, through literally no fault of their own. [The notification letters] were erroneous in that they shouldn’t have been sent. But sometimes it was accurate; and sure enough, you show up to the pharmacy and you have.”

Benefind opened Feb. 29 to long wait times that led to a backlog of 50,000 cases, which the administration just recently cleared as of May 15. Automated notifications were sent erroneously in March telling enrollees their benefits would be cut off.

“Why wasn’t there more information passed to the public?” Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah, asked. “We’ve dealt with a lot of folks who have to go through the re-certification process and without exception, people had no knowledge of why all this was going on.”

Deck Decker, executive director of the office of administrative and technology services, struggled to answer. He eventually said it took them a month to figure out what the problem was.

Before Benefind, users had to enroll individually at service providers. The Affordable Care Act allocated money for Kentucky so that a person would only have to provide information to one centralized office to find out if they are eligible and apply for each benefit.

The system was originally set to launch before former Gov. Steve Beshear left office in December. But it was delayed until Dec. 28 and then February, after open enrollment in the state health insurance exchange, Kynect.

During January and February, the state and federal government paid $1.75 million to Deloitte for the delay, according to the cabinet. The federal government will pay 75 percent of the $40 million allocated for the program over the next two years, while Kentucky will pay 25 percent.

Other issues plagued the system, too. Workers had been trained in September for the December rollout. But by the time the system was launched in February, many had forgotten the training or didn’t recognize the system.

Internet connectivity issues also plagued Benefind. There is currently no paper application. And problems still remain with Medicaid long-term care applications and refugee services.

Rep. Terry Mills, a Democrat from Lebanon, suggested there should be a penalty for Deloitte, and that the attorney general look into what happened.

“The contractor who built our house failed us, and I don’t know if the state should be out for that,” Mills said. “It sounds like the most vulnerable populations have paid for the shortcomings. Maybe that’s something the attorney general needs to look at.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.