No question about it: The rollout of Kentucky’s benefind system has been a nightmare for many recipients of state aid programs — some of the commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens. Now is the time to work together to fix it, not to point fingers.
Benefind was intended to be a first-of-its-kind system to create a single point of contact for those getting or seeking assistance from a variety of aid programs such as Medicaid and food stamps. The administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear brought in Deloitte Consulting to design and build the system at a cost of roughly $100 million. The system was supposedly nearly ready to launch when Beshear’s term ended last December. In fact, the Deloitte contract negotiated by the Beshear folks called for additional payments by the state if work extended beyond that point.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration took office Dec. 8 and decided to delay the launch because it didn’t want any confusion during the open enrollment period for health insurance purchases via kynect, the state health exchange that also served to qualify recipients for the expanded Medicaid program introduced under Gov. Beshear. The benefind system was intended to manage all Medicaid applications once launched and integrate with kynect, which would continue as an insurance exchange.
Since the launch of benefind on Feb. 29, a flood of reports have surfaced ranging from recipients receiving erroneous letters saying their benefits had been terminated to jammed phone lines and long waits at offices. Gov. Bevin, Vickie Yates Glisson, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and a representative for Deloitte acknowledged the problems and outlined how they are working furiously to correct them.
But that didn’t stop the blame game that quickly erupted.
Perhaps the most disingenuous finger-wagging came from former Gov. Beshear’s advocacy group Save Kentucky Healthcare, which was formed to put pressure on Gov. Bevin to keep kynect and the Medicaid expansion alive. It released a video that concluded, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The video makes no mention of whose idea it was to build benefind nor whose administration oversaw its development. It did try to imply that the Bevin administration had made changes to benefind to make it fit with the Bevin agenda — closing kynect and moving to the federal exchange while making as-yet-undetermined changes to Medicaid expansion — an assertion contradicted by Deloitte.
For its part, the Bevin administration asked why the Beshear administration would even undertake such a costly project when no other state had implemented a similar system. Once built with costs running up with any delays, “I would say the previous administration pretty much tied anybody’s hands from doing anything but being able to go forward,” Glisson told a Senate committee recently.
They might well have suggested that the Beshear group change the tagline on its video to: “If we turn it over to you broke after spending $100 million on it, you shouldn’t roll it out.”
We’re reminded of comments made by technology entrepreneur Drew Curtis when he was running as an independent for governor against Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway. Curtis told us that Kentucky doesn’t need to lead the nation in introducing new technologies and approaches. It can learn from the best practices of other states and then act. What did he know back then?
As the Courier-Journal’s Debby Yetter reported, Deloitte Consulting doesn’t have a clean track record on large-scale government projects, despite the well-regarded rollout of kynect — also built by the consulting firm. Problems have arisen on Deloitte projects similar to benefind in Massachusetts, Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania and California. Now isn’t the time to revisit the decisions to undertake the project or to launch it when the state did. Now is the time to focus on helping those who need help the most.
Deloitte has added 120 more staff to help workers in state benefit offices, the cost of which Kentucky officials say Deloitte is paying. Glisson and Deloitte say progress is being made. That is small comfort to those still waiting on benefits, so we need to keep up the pressure to fix the system.
— The Courier-Journal, Louisville