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DHS touts UHIP progress, but lawmakers say it’s not enough

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island health and human services officials say the state is making significant progress with the troubled benefits system known as UHIP, but lawmakers say too many people are still struggling to receive benefits. 

During a R.I. House Oversight Committee hearing Thursday, lawmakers asked tough questions about missing applications, mistakes on federal documents, and the indictment of the former CEO of the state’s call center contractor. 

Since its launch in 2016, UHIP – short for Unified Health Infrastructure Project – has impacted benefits like food stamps and Medicaid for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders. The project’s expected cost is now nearly a half-billion dollars.

Department of Human Services Director Courtney Hawkins acknowledged ongoing issues with applications, though she said errors are much less frequent than they were several months ago. 

“There are instances, for example, where applications get scanned into the system and assigned to the wrong case,” Hawkins explained. 

Rep. Jason Knight fired back.

“This is a lack of competency and a lack of professionalism,” he said. 

According to Hawkins, technology improvements are planned. 

“We will actually implement a barcode technology that will barcode every document that’s received by the department.” Hawkins said. “It will ensure that every document gets scanned to the right case.”

Lawmakers also criticized the state for errors on federal documents. 

“Frankly, it’s embarrassing,” Oversight Committee Chairwoman Patricia Serpa said. 

As Target 12 reported, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) chastised DHS for “misspellings, inconsistent references to years and other typographic errors.” 

Serpa said she discovered additional errors in the resubmission documents.

“I wanted to take out my teacher red pen,” Serpa said. “It’s carelessness. It can be avoided.”

The discussion eventually turned to long-term care.

Several representatives from the local long-term care community, including Virginia Burke, testified about issues with eligibility determinations and payments.

“The situation is not good. While some things are getting better, other things are getting worse,” Burke said.

“The pace of progress is slower because this is our most complicated work,” Hawkins said.

State officials said there is a bright spot in the UHIP saga. According to state data, there are only seven overdue SNAP applications for food stamps that require DHS action, and 90 percent of SNAP applications were determined within federally mandated timelines last month.

“We’ve been showing steady improvement,” Hawkins said. “Having a nine as the first number is a big accomplishment for the department and represents really good work on behalf of my team.”

“I’m glad things are a little bit better for SNAP, but it took frankly a special master to kick that into high gear,” Serpa countered.

A final issue the Oversight Committee tackled was news of the indictment of the former CEO of AHS Inc., the call center vendor for HealthSource RI.

According to the United States Attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania, Joseph Nocito is accused of a multimillion-dollar tax fraud.

“What is Rhode Island’s exposure?” Serpa asked. “I would like you to at least look into it.”

State leaders said they were unaware of the investigation.

Rhode Island recently extended its contract with Deloitte, the company responsible for UHIP, through March 2019. The state has not paid the company in more than a year.

Last month, Deloitte apologized to Rhode Islanders for the problems UHIP has caused. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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