Tumultuous start behind them, cabinet officials say benefind on right track as lawmaker questions $3.5M paid to contractor for delays

07/14/2016 08:00 PM

FRANKFORT — After a rocky rollout in February, officials in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services told a legislative committee on Thursday that they have ironed out most of the issues that plagued benefind at its launch.

But some lawmakers questioned the decision to open the portal for needs-based assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps, with Sen. Danny Carroll suggesting that Attorney General Andy Beshear might want to look into whether the state could recoup some of the money paid to Deloitte Consulting, the contractor that built benefind.

Rep. Terry Mills, a Lebanon Democrat who co-chairs the Program Review and Investigations Committee, said in holding Thursday’s hearing that he didn’t want to place blame for problems at benefind’s launch.

“What I’m trying to do is find out what the problems were for the purpose of not having the same problems occur the next time there’s a similar rollout in the cabinet for families and children or another agency within state government,” Mills said at the meeting’s onset.

Cabinet officials said the system had already been delayed twice — once in the closing days of Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration on Dec. 4 and again on Dec. 28 — before it went live on Feb. 29.

Deck Decker, executive director of the cabinet’s Office of Administration and Technical Services, said that the previous administration and the federal government had said benefind was ready to launch, with the Feds pressuring the state to launch the program. Kentucky paid Deloitte $3.5 million for the delays.

That prompted Carroll, co-chairman of the committee, to wonder whether Beshear might “look at this and look at the contract and the performance and see if maybe there’s some action that needs to be taken on that level.”

“Our contractor that developed our house failed us is what I’m getting from what I’m hearing,” said Carroll, R-Paducah, “and I don’t know that the state should be out the expense from all that. When you hire someone to do a job, they should be prepared to do that job, and if they’re not prepared and the quality of their work is not satisfactory, there should be some repercussions.

“And it sounds like our most vulnerable populations are the ones who have paid for the shortcomings.”

Kevin Pollari, a principal at Deloitte, said the company ramped up its presence in the state to help alleviate problems that emerged after benefind’s launch.

Deloitte has offered 120 employees to help train cabinet personnel as well as provided staff to help the cabinet process 50,000 backlogged cases disrupted in benefind’s launch and implement a rapid-response team for cases that required urgent attention, according to Thursday’s testimony.

Cabinet officials say the backlog is now down to 161 cases, and other improvements have been made in communication between Deloitte and the state and in reducing call waiting times.

“Our team working on the system far, far, far exceeds our contractual commitment in terms of the number of resources, so we’ve stepped up the best we can,” Pollari said. “We’re continuing to step up. We’re not sending any of these people home. We’ve got more than 150 extra people working on this right now today.”

Carroll said he appreciated that, “but I still don’t think that negates the shortcomings.”

“It sounds like the push was that the system was ready when it wasn’t ready, and I feel like maybe the experts that we had hired to take care of this should have recognized that in the beginning,” he said.

Other problems continue despite improvements cited by officials.

Cara Stewart, a health law fellow at the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, helped Kentuckians gain health coverage through kynect, the state’s health insurance exchange launched through the Affordable Care Act, and she said clients are still receiving notices about loss of benefits.

Calls to the Department for Community Based Services have improved but can still last hours, she said.

“When I call in and I get the call picked up in 10 or 20 minutes, I don’t get my resolution then,” Stewart said. “I get sometimes answered by someone who has no idea what I’m talking about and tells me quite plainly they’re not trained in what I’m asking them about, and they send me right back to the queue.”

Sen. Steve West, R-Paris, commended officials for their work on benefind, saying that kynect also had technological glitches to sort through.

“I’m really surprised that this system even works at all,” he said, “and what I’m hearing a lot from the committee today is there would’ve been a lot of second-guessing of Dwight D. Eisenhower when he stormed Normandy.”

But Rep. Jeffery Taylor, D-Hopkinsville, said the state “gambled with human health and safety, and in some cases human lives.”

“It’s not acceptable,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a person in here that would take a road trip with their family across the country without a spare tire. That’s just common sense. Somewhere along the way we didn’t have a backup plan. We didn’t have a plan B, and I want to know why we didn’t.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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