PITTSBURG — Rising unemployment, the swelling ranks of the uninsured, outdated technology and the state's budget problems have led to a backlog of 12,000 Medicaid applications in Kansas, health officials said.
A contractor that processes applications for the Kansas Health Policy Authority is supposed to complete them in two to six weeks, but has taken up to four months in some cases.
The health authority predicted there would be a backlog but was denied a request to the Legislature last session for $1.5 million for staff to speed up the processing work, Peter Hancock, an agency spokesman, said.
"We saw this coming," Hancock said. "We're not surprised. We're disappointed, obviously, that there are so many people uninsured and it's taking so long."
As of September, Medicaid covered 265,787 Kansas residents, with an additional 38,683 children up to age 19 covered by the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. That's about 10 percent of the state's population.
The backlog is due partly to the state's rising unemployment rate, as well as the number of working people who no longer have health insurance, Hancock said.
The state's unemployment rate in August was 7.1 percent. The Kansas Health Institute says that 40.9 percent of adult residents without health insurance worked full time and year-round in 2007-08.
Hancock contends the state's "very antiquated, old, inefficient eligibility system" that dates to the mid-1980s also contributes to the backlog. The result, he said, is a "a very labor-intensive process" of handling the applications.
In September, Kansas received a five-year, $40.3 million grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to be used to modernize the enrollment system. Eventually, the health authority will be able to offer online applications.
The health authority also shifted money in savings to pay more overtime to work through the applications, Hancock said.
Krista Postai, the director of a "safety net" clinic in Pittsburg, said it is losing $10,000 a month because it is seeing up to 20 new patients a day and few have coverage. The center has 17,000 patients and receives federal grants for the uninsured, but it hasn't been enough.
She said the state's delay in paying Medicaid claims is contributing to the problem because some patients are waiting three to four months to have their applications processed.
Postai said she's worried the delays are causing the uninsured to wait too long to bring in sick children, allowing their illnesses to worsen.
She said she's also worried that changes in Medicaid eligibility requirements in January will mean another 4,000 children could apply in 2010 and as many as 10,000 by 2015.
"I thought that the problem could go from bad to worse simply because we will have lots more kids in the system Jan. 1," Postai said. "A lot of advocacy groups are really pushing people to sign up, so there will be an influx of applications based on those efforts."