A new state computer system meant to help people get public benefits more easily instead is creating turmoil throughout Kentucky, interrupting health coverage, food stamps or other assistance for countless individuals, according to health and social service advocates.
People seeking help must wait hours or days, repeatedly calling a state helpline only to get a recorded message that advises them to try later and then hangs up, the advocates said. Others visit overcrowded state benefit offices where they must wait for hours - sometimes the entire day - to get help, they said.
"It's really frustrating," said Emily Pickett, a Louisville mother who learned Feb. 29 two of her three small children had been cut off from Medicaid coverage.
Further, the new system known as Benefind has disrupted the state's highly successful health insurance exchange, kynect, shutting people out of their online accounts or eliminating their health coverage altogether, they said.
"Benefind is a disaster," said Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of health advocacy groups. "It's not working."
Of course, the people who warned Bevin that Benefind was a massive failure are no longer in the Bevin administration. Seems Gov. Bevin deals quite swiftly and harshly with those who may expose his administration's many flaws here in Bevinstan.
The top official in charge of complaints at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services was fired one business day after he said he warned his bosses that people were so angry over problems with a new public benefits system that he feared some might become violent, endangering state workers.
Hundreds of callers have grown increasingly frustrated over the abrupt loss of benefits such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, said Norman "Chip" Ward, the former executive director of the cabinet's ombudsman's office.
Many are furious they can't reach anyone on a state hotline to handle questions about benefits they said were wrongly canceled under the new system know as Benefind.
"I expressed my concern that something bad was going to happen," Ward said in an interview Monday, adding he was worried an angry client might visit a local state benefit office and become violent. "It was really reaching a boiling point."
Among the cabinet officials Ward said he notified of his concerns on March 18 were Secretary Vickie Yates Glisson; Tim Feeley, deputy secretary; Adria Johnson, the commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, which handles public benefits; and Steve Davis, the cabinet's chief of staff.
In an interview Friday, Davis declined to elaborate on Ward's dismissal, saying the decision to fire the ombudsman was "a personnel matter." Davis said he is acting as the current ombudsman.
Ward said that as a political appointee he lacks merit protection and Davis gave him no reason for firing him.
So now, Bevin has taken a state government system that actually worked and has replaced it with a broken system in order to save costs. And Bevin is blaming everything on his predecessor, former Gov. Steve Beshear.
Bevin blamed the backlogs on former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration, which created the original version of Benefind but hadn’t opened the program to the public before the end of his term.
“We were told that it was, it had been double-checked, it was user-ready and it was time to unveil it. You have found out firsthand that it’s not exactly as we expected it to be,” Bevin said in a Youtube video addressed to employees of the Department for Community Based Services, which manages the program.
“I know it’s frankly been scary in some measure, with just the onslaught of people that have been piling up, the amount of work that is at hand,” Bevin said in the video.
So Bevin is blaming Dinosaur Steve for the mess and firing the whistleblowers who say otherwise. But that's how Gov. Bevin rolls, you see. Not too much accountability here in Bevinstan. You'd be forgiven for thinking Bevin dismantled Kynect and then replaced it with a mess of a system to make sure that people couldn't get their benefits they were entitled to get.
We can't have government actually working in he Commonwealth, you know.