In the past month, the state Department of Human Services has reduced by more than half the number of infants whose applications for Medicaid have been pending more than 45 days, a department official told state lawmakers on Thursday.
Mary Franklin, who became interim director of the department's Division of County Operations in January, told the Legislature's House and Senate public health committees during a joint meeting that she expects to have eliminated the backlog by the end of the month.
"We're making progress," she said.
The backlog, which stood at more than 4,000 applications as of Feb. 1, was caused by problems with the department's new computerized enrollment system, which has been under construction since 2013.
The department began using the system to enroll newborns in January 2015, but it wasn't able to handle them properly until last fall, department spokesman Amy Webb said.
The system can now automatically process new applications, Webb said, but department workers have had to manually process the older applications.
During the time the applications have been pending, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers have been waiting for reimbursement for the care they provided.
A small number of doctors stopped providing such services to Medicaid-eligible newborns altogether, David Wroten, executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, told legislators last month.
Wroten said after Thursday's meeting that the situation has improved.
"We're very impressed with the job that [Franklin] is doing," he said.
The previous director of county operations, Delia Anderson, resigned effective Jan. 4 for a private sector job outside the state, Webb said.
Under federal regulations, a child born to a woman who is on Medicaid is automatically eligible for coverage for a year after the birth as long as the child lives with the mother and she remains eligible.
The federal rules require applications to be processed within 45 days.
Franklin told the public health committees on Feb. 1 that she would have the backlog eliminated within 60 days.
Since then, she said, the department has processed 3,626 of the applications. The department also checked with health care providers and discovered an additional 1,478 applications that had not been processed, she said.
She expects to have all the applications processed by the end of this month, she said.
The new enrollment system was needed, department officials have said, to determine eligibility under rules that took effect Jan. 1, 2014, under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
After work began, the project's estimated cost more than doubled, to more than $200 million, and the department replaced its lead contractor.
In December, Gov. Asa Hutchinson directed the department to stop most work on the project until it can hire a "systems integrator" that would take responsibility for completing the system, either using the same IBM software that the department has been using or with a new software platform.
The department plans to solicit bids on the project later this year.
Metro on 03/04/2016