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States told to address Medicaid backlogs

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 8:27 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — A half-dozen states with backlogs for Medicaid enrollees were approaching a federal deadline on Monday to establish plans for getting low-income residents enrolled in health coverage.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent letters dated June 27 to Alaska, California, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee asking those states to address gaps in their eligibility and enrollment systems that have delayed access to coverage for poor and disabled people.

The letters stated that those states had 10 days to deliver a response plan, but health advocates say there is no clear deadline for clearing the backlog.

The federal government “will remain in close contact with states to monitor their progress to ensure that they are facilitating Medicaid enrollment for those individuals eligible,” agency spokeswoman Marilyn Jackson said.

California had the largest backlog of 900,000 people in its Medicaid program as of May, out of 1.9 million who enrolled. The state Department of Health Care Services reported that the backlog has been reduced to 600,000 as of Monday.

“We've been proud of much of what California has done to implement health reform, but we're fundamentally concerned about people who need care and can't access it — people who are going without care, people who are getting medical bills even though they're eligible for Medi-Cal — that's all happening today,” said Elizabeth Landsberg, an advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

California's information technology problems stem from communication gaps between the state and county welfare systems. Many counties have reported trouble accessing state information necessary to process applications for Medi-Cal, the state's version of the Medicaid safety net program.

Norman Williams, a spokesman for the California Department of Health Care Services, said the volume of applications contributed to the backlog.

The group Health Consumer Alliance sent a letter to California Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month with a list of recommendations, such as granting presumptive eligibility to all applicants who have waited more than 45 days, the federal timeline for determining eligibility. The group has been hearing from people whose applications are stalled even though they need medical care.

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