Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Social Services Computer Headaches

There are two interesting articles out this morning:

Govtech: Social Services Synchronicity
April 2005 By Shane Peterson

Which is a some what technical article on the problems of transitioning to new computer systems.

And then this article on the lattest news in Colorado:

Help on way for CBMS: Counties get money to ease state welfare system's problems
By Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News March 29, 2005

The Joint Budget Committee on Monday gave Colorado's counties an extra $4.3 million to pay for overtime and temporary workers to implement the state's troubled welfare-benefits computer system.

The money should come just in time to keep the extra workers on staff and processing cases for food stamps, Medicaid and staff assistance, counties said.

County commissioners had worried that if the emergency money didn't come, the audits of their social services departments would be scathing.

And that would have damaged their bond ratings, making it more expensive to borrow money for buildings, roads and the like.

The $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System, launched Sept. 1, was supposed to streamline welfare benefits and be more accurate than the system it replaced. But it has been plagued by problems, applications have been delayed and hundreds of people are claiming they're not getting benefits due them.

The state already had given counties $5 million for the transition to CBMS. Also on Monday, the lawyers suing the state on behalf of Colorado's needy filed more affidavits, alleging that dozens of welfare applicants weren't helped by the state's new emergency call center.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy said in an affidavit that it referred 79 cases to the attorney general between Jan. 18 and March 24. Most of those people had emergencies and had gotten no relief, despite calls to the state's 800 hotline.

The Colorado Center for Law and Policy also claimed $512,000 in legal expenses for some 2,000 hours of legal work.

CBMS remains broken, with complaint calls on the rise, the lawyers said.

Gov. Bill Owens says CBMS is here to stay, has made progress in reducing the case backlog and is processing most claims accurately.

But the lawyers say they are receiving 100 calls a week from "desperate and frustrated people" who can't get food stamps, cash assistance or Medicaid. Almost every day they get a call from a pregnant woman who applied for Medicaid last fall, but still can't get prenatal care because of backlogs or delays in CBMS, they say.

They gave these examples:

• A 19-year-old woman about to give birth applied for Medicaid in August, was referred to the attorney general in November, called the emergency number in January but still is being told to be patient.

• A 54-year-old man with end- stage liver failure can't get on the transplant list because his Medicaid approval has been delayed. He tried the emergency number in January, but so far nothing.

• A 38-year-old amputee is facing eviction because he can't purchase colostomy supplies while his Medicaid application is pending. His case manager tried the emergency call number but hasn't gotten a response in two weeks.

EDS, the company that put together CBMS, has built similar systems in three other states. But Colorado wanted more control over the system than other states to make sure that applicants weren't, for example, receiving food stamps in both Chaffee and Lake counties, according to minutes of state committees that met to discuss CBMS during design.

Also, state officials wanted to make sure counties were asking enough questions to determine illegal-immigrant status, according to the minutes. The result was hundreds of complex decision tables that determine eligibility. Tweaking those decision tables is the responsibility of the state.

Ninety-one system defects, the responsibility of EDS, have been found so far.

Hundreds of decision-table errors, the responsibility of the state, also have been found.

The Colorado Center on Law and Policy asked Owens to make sure Deloitte Consulting, the firm hired to review CBMS, asks tough questions, including:

• How was CBMS supposed to perform, and how close is it to performing at that level?

• How many people will be needed to process cases in a timely manner? How does that compare to the old system?