The sudden widespread disruptions in Kentuckians’ access to health care and public benefits raise a host of questions.
Do the unexplained Medicaid and food stamp cancellations and day-long waits to talk to a case worker arise from a conscious decision by the Bevin administration to reduce assistance rolls?
Or, are they the result of “unforeseen technical issues” that accompany the rollout of any big new software program, as Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson said in a press release last week?
Also, would the $100 million Benefind system, which launched Feb. 29 after several years in design, be working better had it not been re-purposed at the last moment to accommodate Gov. Matt Bevin’s plans to dismantle or at least reconfigure Kynect, the state’s health insurance exchange?
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Benefind’s launch a month ago triggered massive confusion and anguish for those who were shocked to learn, at the doctor’s office or in a letter, that their family’s health-care coverage had been abruptly canceled, as Deborah Yetter reported in The Courier-Journal.
With little or no explanation, people are receiving termination notices for Medicaid and food stamps. The notices include the phone numbers of local legal services offices, which report being swamped with calls from hundreds of people receiving the notices.
Telephoning a state hotline is useless; a recorded message says there’s a backlog of calls followed by a dead line. The hotline phones are answered only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., precluding most working people. Those who go to local community-based services offices are finding all-day waits to talk to someone.
One of the biggest changes made by the Bevin administration effectively excludes kynectors from helping Medicaid patients make inquiries, update personal information or troubleshoot. Since 2013, the state’s 500 kynectors have been critical to helping almost 500,000 Kentuckians negotiate new health-care options and obtain coverage. The sudden exclusion of kynectors has shifted a huge burden onto state workers and contributed to the long waits.
Another question: Did the Bevin administration intentionally shut out kynectors from helping Medicaid recipients or is that a glitch?
Benefind was designed to share a database and work with Kynect, the online portal through which Kentuckians find out if they are eligible for Medicaid or subsidized health insurance for individuals and small employers. Kynect has worked well for more than two years. The idea was that Kynect users would be able to transition seamlessly to a Benefind screen where they could apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and food stamps, increasing the efficiency of the state benefits system overall.
The Bevin administration adapted Benefind in response to the governor’s desire to end Kynect. Running the Cabinet for Health and Family Services is an enormously hard and complicated job. In her four months in the post, Glisson has had to devote herself to figuring out how to undo something that’s working well and make the complicated transition to a new hybrid system that involves the federal health-care exchange.
That makes us wonder: If Glisson and her new team hadn’t been so distracted by Bevin’s irrational demand to undo Kynect, could they have done a better job of managing Benefind’s rollout?
The Kentuckians who are being harmed are not deadbeats or malingerers. They work hard in low-wage jobs and are just trying to care for themselves and their children. Forcing them back to emergency rooms for medical care will be costly to everyone.
The Bevin administration has a lot of questions to answer and a lot to answer for. Blaming the previous administration as Bevin did in a video message to affected state workers won’t cut it. It’s time to get busy and make the system work or explain why not.