Fewer people are able to help Kentuckians sign up for health insurance through the state exchange and Medicaid now that Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has rolled out Benefind, an umbrella portal for state benefits.
So-called Kynectors — state workers and volunteers tasked with helping Kentuckians navigate the health exchange — said new regulations require them to refer most applicants to the Department of Community Based Services, a state agency that manages Benefind, which has been plagued by confusion and long wait times.
The Bevin administration, which has acknowledged the problems with Benefind, said the crunch is caused by an automatic review of cases where information from Kynect and the former state benefits program, KAMES, didn’t match.
The shift to the new system has disrupted the flow of services to thousands of Kentuckians, according to the state workers tasked with helping them.
“Cases where information between the Kynect case and legacy case did not match (for example, household composition or income) are required to be managed by a state agent before they can be acted upon by agents or Kynectors,” Jessica Ditto, Bevin’s communications director, wrote in an email. “This constraint has been placed to protect program and data integrity — plus, this is required by federal law.”
Over the past few years, more than 400,000 Kentuckians have signed up for expanded Medicaid through Kynect, the state health exchange implemented by former Gov. Steve Beshear. Bevin has promised to dismantle the service, leaving Benefind in its place.
Ditto said there are about 51,000 cases currently under review.
Ditto said the backup is only temporary while DCBS workers resolve differences between conflicting case files of people who receive benefits.
“Once those are reconciled, the cases will become open for Kynectors and agents again, just as before,” Ditto wrote.
At present, Kynectors can only sign up individuals for health insurance through Kynect if those people are applying for health insurance and haven’t ever received other state benefits.
If individuals are receiving non-health-related services like SNAP (formerly food stamps), KTAP (cash assistance) and child care assistance, Kynectors have to refer applicants to DCBS, which has been overwhelmed with requests.
The administration confirmed that the review process extends to anyone who has ever received a state benefit like SNAP or KTAP in the past.
The revelation is the latest in a series of glitches reported on the rollout of Benefind. Launched Feb. 29, the program has discontinued state services for some and erroneously notified thousands their benefits would be suspended, leading to a flood of complaints to state call centers and offices.
On Feb. 25, a 27-page “Worker Portal Defect Workaround Guide” was distributed to DCBS staff showing that the administration knew there would be problems with the Benefind rollout.
Vickie Yates Brown Glisson, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said last week the state has hired 185 new DCBS workers to help address the problems.
Meanwhile, the 500 state-contracted Kynectors aren’t allowed to assist with many health insurance issues if applicants are involved with non-health programs in any way.
State-funded Kynectors who spoke with Kentucky Public Radio wouldn’t go on the record detailing the problems. A Kynector who confirmed the current situation expressed fear of retaliation from superiors in state government.
Questions about how Kynect operates under the Benefind program were referred to the governor’s office or the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
Cara Stewart, a law fellow with the Equal Justice Center and non-state-funded Kynector, said the Benefind rollout underutilizes the Kynector system.
“They’re taking away all that functionality and all those resources,” she said. “You call Kynect they have a two-minute wait time, you call DCBS it’s over two hours … if you’re lucky enough to get through.”
Meanwhile, DCBS phone banks aren’t open for as many hours under Bevin’s watch.
Under the Beshear administration, DCBS workers were forced to work overtime to manage calls dealing with Kynect and Medicaid. Bevin rescinded that policy.
Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a health care advocacy group, said after the Benefind rollout, Kynectors aren’t able to sign people up for health insurance as effectively.
“They’re definitely trying their best, but their hands are tied in ways they didn’t used to be,” she said. “That lack of system functionality, coupled with the fact that there are so many fewer workers now that Kynectors’ hands are tied, has led to this fiasco.”
Officials from Beshear’s administration have said the difficulties are due in part to Benefind taking over as the portal for expanded Medicaid services, which used to be handled exclusively by Kynect.
Bevin and Deloitte Consulting — which helped developed the $101 million system during the past few years — say the system was always designed to support Medicaid enrollees.