One of the many unpleasant surprises accompanying the troubled debut of Benefind, the state’s new $100 million integrated benefits system, was the lockout of kynectors.
This cadre of 500 highly-trained people, working in non-profit organizations and a contractor-run call center, have been key to helping 500,000 Kentuckians navigate new health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act and gain access to routine medical care.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture can restore kynectors’ ability to help low-income Kentuckians by approving an exception to some privacy provisions in its Food and Nutrition Service programs.
Such an exemption would jeopardize no one’s privacy because kynectors’ already know the financial information of the people who seek their help in applying for benefits through Kynect’s and now Benefind’s online self-service portals.
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Not surprisingly, there’s great overlap between people who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as SNAP or food stamps) and those who are eligible for Medicaid and subsidized health insurance.
What did come as a surprise — although it’s impossible to understand why it was not anticipated — was that the new Benefind system automatically blocks kynectors who are helping anyone who has ever received food stamps, which essentially locked out the kynectors.
Also, thousands of Kentuckians received erroneous notices that their benefits were being canceled as huge backlogs of cases piled up in Department for Community Based Services offices.
More than 100 benefits workers from around the state, working out of an operations center in Frankfort, processed 28,500 cases during a recent two-week period and slashed the backlog. Similar centralized operations are planned later this month and next month to trim and prevent backlogs and identify and fix bugs.
It’s worth getting to the bottom of why provisions were not made in advance to keep kynectors online when Benefind rolled out in late February. Deloitte, a multinational firm, designed and is managing the system, which had to be approved at various stages at the federal level. Knowing what went wrong could avert such crises as more states adopt the integrated benefits systems encouraged by the ACA.
What’s most urgent now is restoring kynectors’ access to the system and their ability to help Kentuckians in need.
The USDA should quickly grant the reasonable exception that the Bevin administration is seeking.