HARTFORD, CT — Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has re-appointed nine state state agency commissioners, but doesn’t plan on reappointing Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby.
Appointed in March 2011 by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Bremby came from Kansas where he was head of that state’s Department of Health and Environment. He was appointed to that position by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who then served as Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department under former President Barack Obama.
Bremby was touted as a systems expert and was tasked in Connecticut with computerizing a mostly paper-based benefits eligibility system in order to accept benefit applications online. He was also involved in the creation of Connecticut’s health insurance exchange.
As the DSS’s longest serving commissioner who never sought the spotlight, Bremby guided the agency through a monumental transition that wasn’t always smooth and wasn’t without its critics.
His tenure kicked off with the discovery of 125 boxes of unprocessed benefits applications in the regional Hartford office. The discovery highlighted the need to transition to a paperless system.
In July 2013, the department transitioned from the old eligibility management method to ConnectCT, which included an interactive phone system and a document scanning service. In August 2016, they began replacing ConnectCT with ImpaCT, a new web-based eligibility management system. ImpaCT replaced the outdated mainframe computer whose software was written in Cobol, a code created in the 1960s.
The agency Bremby inherited handled 5 million pieces of paper and 900,000 phone calls per month.
The department still maintains 12 regional offices and launched the call center, which acts like a 13th office. While it’s not an application line, the phone option is designed to offer eligibility-related services. People call to change their address, cancel benefits, or make sure their paperwork is being processed or has been received.
There are currently 800,000 residents who receive Medicaid benefits and 400,000 with food stamps.
The new system is still a work in progress.
Wait times that clients were experiencing on DSS’s phone system this past summer were nearing two hours.
According to advocates, the long telephone wait times have caused more people to show up at DSS offices — a trend the department was hoping to eliminate when it instituted the new system five years ago. DSS notes that local offices are always an option for the public and the new system added alternatives to, not the replacement of, in-person visits.
Another bright spot during Bremby’s tenure was his ability to turn around the processing times for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The federal government even awarded Connecticut funding bonuses as a result of its performance in handling SNAP applications.
The Lamont administration is conducting a national search for Bremby’s successor and is consulting with people like Andy Slavitt, the former acting commissioner of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who was also instrumental in solving problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
“Governor Lamont thanks Rod Bremby for his leadership at DSS,” Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s communications director, said. “As its longest serving commissioner, Bremby was integral in the launch of the department’s self-insured Medicaid program, which leads the nation in cost stability and improved quality health outcomes. In addition, he led efforts to modernize the agency to better serve its clients and enhance partnerships with supporting organizations. DSS is better positioned for future success, thanks to Commissioner Bremby’s leadership.”
Bremby said he’s grateful for the opportunity.
“I am deeply grateful to Governors Malloy and Lamont for the opportunity to serve the residents of Connecticut,” Bremby said. “Further, I am grateful to have had the privilege to serve with colleagues at DSS who come to work each and every day focused on customers, over self.”
Bremby will remain commissioner until the end of February.