- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A state lawmaker has suggested an attorney general’s review of the contract with the consulting company that built Kentucky’s new state public benefit system.

The launch of the $100-million system known as benefind drew harsh criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers during a hearing Thursday, The Courier-Journal (https://cjky.it/29NQgFL) reported. The system caused massive disruptions in public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps earlier this year.

“It seems like our most vulnerable populations are the ones who have paid for the shortcomings,” said Sen. Danny Carroll, a Paducah Republican. “Maybe that’s something the attorney general should take a look at.”

Carroll suggested the attorney general could review whether Kentucky could recoup any of the funds it paid Deloitte Consulting and whether the contract offered sufficient protection to Kentucky in light of problems with the launch.

Carroll is co-chairman of the joint House-Senate Program Review and Investigations Committee, which held Thursday’s hearing.

Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for state Attorney General Andy Beshear, said Thursday that the office had not received any official communication about reviewing the benefind contract but “we strive to be responsive to state lawmakers.”

Thursday’s hearing was the first time lawmakers had publicly scrutinized benefind since it was launched Feb. 29. The massive computer program, meant to serve as a one-stop shop for public benefits, was several years in the making and initiated under the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear.

Deloitte principal Kevin Pollari, a representative of the global technology and consulting firm, defended Deloitte’s work and said company officials are working with Kentucky to fix problems and improve the system.

“We’ve stepped up the best we can,” Pollari told the committee. “We’re continuing to step up.”

Carroll wasn’t satisfied. “I appreciate that but it still doesn’t negate the shortcomings,” he said.

Some lawmakers said they had been inundated with complaints from people who lost health coverage, food stamps or other important public assistance.

State officials who testified Thursday said that in the early days of the rollout, the scope of the problems wasn’t immediately apparent to new members of the administration of Gov. Matt Bevin, who took office in December.

As they realized the seriousness of the problems, officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services threw all their energy into solving them and getting the system to work, said Tim Feeley, deputy secretary of the cabinet.

“The program was flawed, and the cabinet has worked diligently to improve it,” he said.

Bernard “Deck” Decker, executive director of the cabinet’s technology services, said many of the benefind problems have been resolved.

A backlog of some 50,000 cases waiting to be processed has been cleared, he said.

Two health advocates who spoke Thursday agreed that many of the problems have been corrected. But others persist.

Some consumers are stilling getting letters with misinformation or having difficulty accessing benefits, said Cara Stewart, a lawyer with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

Stewart said while it’s true the state has cut wait times for callers seeking help, that doesn’t mean all callers are getting help faster. Often when she calls on behalf of clients, Stewart said, the state worker she reaches can’t help with a specific problem and puts her on hold to wait for someone else.

“They send me right back to the end of the queue,” she said.


Information from: The Courier-Journal, https://www.courier-journal.com

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