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Medicaid backlog cost state at least $2.3 million and counting

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment now says it hopes to resolve the Medicaid application backlog issue by the end of October and begin working on the 35,000 renewal applications.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment now says it hopes to resolve the Medicaid application backlog issue by the end of October and begin working on the 35,000 renewal applications. File photo

The state has spent an additional $2.3 million on staffing to handle thousands of backlogged health insurance applications for people with low incomes or who are severely disabled, according to an audit.

The audit looked into ongoing problems with the state’s Medicaid application backlog. Medicaid is the state and federal health insurance program. Kansas has a privatized Medicaid system called KanCare.

The audit also discovered that as of mid-August, nearly 35,000 people have renewal applications pending and are waiting to find out if they will continue to receive services. The audit was requested by Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment now says it hopes to resolve the backlog issue by the end of October and begin working on the 35,000 renewal applications. Originally, the department said it planned to have the backlogs cleared by the end of summer, and then by the end of September.

Aaron Dunkel, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said that as of Wednesday, 3,385 applicants have been waiting longer than 45 days.

Brad Hoff, senior auditor at the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit, told legislators that the backlog will likely never reach zero, even after the issue is considered resolved, because of delays with disability determinations. But he said the backlog historically remained between 100 and 200 applicants.

Hoff also said he could not independently verify the state’s backlog numbers.

“We relied significantly on testimony from KDHE officials, and we weren’t able to test some of their testimony,” he said. “We can’t be assured that the reporting numbers are fully accurate, but we have enough confidence they’re not grossly inaccurate.”

In June, a letter from the state to federal regulators obtained by The Eagle revealed that the backlog had quadrupled from what the state previously reported – from 3,480 to 15,393 people. Of those, 10,961 people had been waiting for more than 45 days for the state to process their applications.

The state blamed the error on the company contracted to maintain the backlog of applications. That spike galvanized frustrations about the inaccuracies within the system.

At an August meeting, legislators from both sides of the aisle and both chambers scolded state officials who oversee the program.

The legislators toured the application clearinghouse in Topeka and raised questions about the ongoing problems.

A ‘systemic problem’

The audit sought to answer three questions: What are the correct backlog numbers? What caused the backlog? What is the state doing to address the backlog?

A more thorough investigation about the backlog could be finished sometime during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.

The audit said the Kansas Department of Health and Environment underestimated the number of Kansans who would apply for Medicaid during health care open enrollment last year, which contributed to the backlog.

Open enrollment for insurance on the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov, begins in November for 2017 coverage.

“We’re not convinced that the system is fixed enough that they’ll be ready for open enrollment and we won’t end up with another backlog,” said Linda MowBray, director of Kansas Center for Assisted Living with the Kansas Health Care Association.

“We still have a systemic problem we haven’t fixed,” she said.

MowBray said she has concerns about the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s transparency on the issue.

“It shouldn’t take you 18 months or a threat from a legislative committee to listen,” she said.

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

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