Metro, News

Committee on Oversight reviews lawsuits about insurance, food stamps

Thursday hearing at State House highlights ACLU lawsuits stemming from UHIP implementation

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2018

The United Health Infrastructure Project obstructed many residents from receiving their benefits. The discussion also highlighted the state’s poor timeliness rate for the processing of food stamp applications.

Over a year after the faulty implementation of the United Health Infrastructure Project, the R.I. House Committee on Oversight is still finding a way forward. During a hearing Thursday night at the State House, the committee discussed the consolidated computer system that processes and distributes social services. Starting in 2016, the project obstructed many Rhode Island residents from receiving their benefits and resulted in two lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island against the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

On Jan. 29, the state agreed to return benefits to any clients or customers who, as a result of UHIP, stopped receiving money to pay for their health insurance from the Medicare Premium Program, said Ellen Saideman, the ACLU lawyer who filed the suit against the executive office on Jan. 2, 2018. The computer glitch responsible for the neglected patients occurred in January 2017, less than a year after Deloitte Consulting LLP, hired by the state, implemented UHIP. Despite the state’s compliance, Saideman wants to ensure that the state tracks down everyone whose benefits were canceled, not just those with whom she is in contact.

“(The state) submitted the name of my client and some others on Jan. 29 to get their benefits back,” Saideman said. “Whether this is everyone, I don’t know.”

“I can ensure the committee that we are doing everything we can to determine the full universe of people and get their benefits reinstated as quickly as possible,” said Eric Beane, state health and human services secretary.

The discussion highlighted another case against the state focused on holding the executive office accountable. As agreed upon by a lawsuit filed in December 2016 and settled shortly after, the state must provide monthly data to the ACLU about the processing of food stamp applications. In addition, the state must achieve a 96 percent “timeliness rate” for processing those applications, which is defined as reviewing data to determine eligibility within seven to 30 days, said Lynette Labinger, another ACLU lawyer present at the State House Thursday.

“They haven’t come close to 96 percent,” Labinger said, adding that the timeliness rate was 59.8 percent for expedited applications and 64.9 percent for non-expedited applications in August 2017. The state has made progress recently, reporting an 83.9 percent timeliness rate in December 2017, she said.

The executive office also failed to provide the ACLU with data about timeliness rates for the month of September, despite their court order to do so, Labinger said. This was due to “lack of confidence” in the data because of a system failure from UHIP, she added.

“Real people … are not getting food stamps who really, really need them,” Labinger said.

Courtney Hawkins, director of the state’s department of human services, cannot predict if and when UHIP will begin to save the state money, which was one of the program’s original purposes, she said. Current efforts are focused on restoring benefits to those who need them, she added.

The contract with Deloitte is set to end in late June, but they will likely continue to work with the state in order to address any continuous problems with the program, Beane said — a statement met with audible frustration from the committee.