UHIP citizenship error affects benefits for thousands

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Thousands of Rhode Islanders were denied health care or benefits because of a UHIP system glitch that inaccurately made it appear as if they were not citizens, Target 12 has learned.

UHIP, short for the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, is the state’s troubled half-billion-dollar computer system that’s supposed to streamline benefits and health care for Rhode Islanders.

According to a report by Deloitte, the company that built UHIP, citizens were being incorrectly denied coverage due to “non-citizen status.”

The report explains “the citizenship question is not shown for clients not requesting medical coverage in the customer portal. Therefore, by not being able to answer this question, the previous response for citizenship is overwritten by a ‘null’ value.”

The code error affected about 5,000 people, according to Ashely O’Shea, spokesperson for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Deloitte has since fixed the error for about 90 percent of the people affected, O’Shea said.

“The majority of the remaining affected customers are HSRI and Medicaid customers,” she said, adding that “the state continues to hold Deloitte accountable and is taking the appropriate steps to re-instate benefits for these individuals.”

Target 12 reported on a similar system glitch last year. O’Shea said errors are not related.

The citizenship issue is not the only system problem.

According to state data, there are currently 4,505 open incidents in the UHIP system. Nearly 900 of those are blocking benefits for Rhode Islanders.

Target 12 has also learned the R.I. Department of Human Services (DHS) missed an important federal deadline this week.

FNS, the federal agency that oversees SNAP benefits for food, told the state back in September that it had to eliminate the backlog of paperwork for food stamps by Monday, March 5.

Instead of being slashed, the backlog grew.

A letter from FNS shows DHS failed to meet its goals and that “the backlog has actually increased since the report was issued.”

According to FNS, as of September there were 12,919 unprocessed recertifications and 11,353 unprocessed interim reports. By the end of January, the numbers had climbed to 14,152 and 17,829, respectively.

In a statement to Target 12, DHS Director Courtney Hawkins said the state is now in compliance with the FNS recertification policies, and is no longer adding to the recertification backlog.

“As customers submit new recertifications, DHS Eligibility Technicians work any unprocessed case documents as part of updating the customer’s case,” Hawkins explained. “DHS has also started to implement a process of working overdue recertifications, interims and changes by having our most skilled staff tackle these cases during overtime, and are developing a training guide for other staff to begin processing these cases.”

DHS is also adding about 80 new eligibility technicians, many of whom will be assigned to the SNAP unit.

As Target 12 previously reported, FNS fined the state $805,000 because it failed to notify the feds of a contract change with Deloitte. FNS and DHS recently reached a settlement, requiring the state to invest the fine to improve the efficiency of benefit programs.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.