Whittling Medicaid backlog, state says

On time to finish reviews by 2017

The state Department of Human Services is on schedule to eliminate its backlog of Medicaid applications overdue for review by year's end, officials reported to a legislative committee Tuesday.

Department officials also reported for the first time that no recipients were overdue for an annual review of their eligibility.

The total backlog of overdue cases was reported at 87,963 on Sept. 6, according to a letter from Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on that date. The department reported the results Tuesday at a subcommittee meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Council.

The backlog includes applications for Medicaid eligibility -- either traditional Medicaid or through the state's expanded private option -- that have waited more than 45 days for review. The count also includes those seeking a change in their coverage.

Gillespie, who did not address the subcommittee Tuesday, has attributed the backlog to problems encountered when the department installed a new system for determining applicants' eligibility. The department began tracking the backlog and reporting the numbers to the Legislature earlier this year.

Plans to reduce the backlog to zero by Dec. 31 are still on track as of Tuesday, the department's Division of County Operations Director Mary Franklin told lawmakers.

In order to reduce the backlog, the state has contracted with extra caseworkers and computer programmers, at a cost of $2 million, with another $6.4 million coming from the federal government, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously reported.

Gillespie said in her letter that Virginia-based company Maximus completed two rounds of staff training on Sept. 2, with another round of training "set to begin soon." The company was hired to provide additional caseworkers at a cost of $7.5 million.

The total number of cases under review by department workers at the end of August was 98,178, a 19 percent decline from June, according to Gillespie's letter. That includes 10,215 cases which are pending review but which have not been labeled overdue.

The department reported a steady increase in the number of people who requested a change in coverage because of circumstances over the past year. At the end of July, the number of overdue cases involving a change in circumstance was reported to be 56,331 on July 31, but on Tuesday the department reported the backlog had spiked to more than 57,773 cases.

At the same time, the department reported a decrease in pending cases from three categories: new applicants, individuals up for renewal and newborn babies. There were no reported overdue cases in the last two categories.

The number of new applicants overdue for a review of eligibility fell from 30,365 on July 31 to 26,856.

No reason for the increase in applicants seeking to change their coverage status was given during the hearing Tuesday, which lasted less than 15 minutes. A department spokesman said afterward they were unable to determine a cause.

"As we've ramped up work on the overdue casework, we have for the first time in months experienced fewer constituent calls to Legislators related to Medicaid eligibility," Gillespie said in her letter to Hutchinson. "Though our work is nowhere near complete, we do see a light at the end of the tunnel."

Arkansans earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level are eligible for private coverage paid for by Medicaid under the state's private option expansion. That income is about $16,243 for an individual and $33,465 for a family of four.

Information for this article was contributed by Andy Davis of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 09/21/2016

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