Idaho rushes to catch up on Medicaid enrollments

State officials say they have buckled down to get people out of limbo.

adutton@idahostatesman.comJanuary 10, 2014 

While the rest of the state was celebrating New Year’s Day, a few people at Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare were rushing to send letters to thousands of Idahoans who hadn’t enrolled in Medicaid because of technical problems at the federal level.

Now a team of five employees in Eastern Idaho is in charge of immediately getting people enrolled. It has been months since some of them tried to apply.

The problem isn’t unique to Idaho. More than 100,000 of the nearly 270,000 people who used healthcare.gov to apply for insurance plans were told that they qualified for Medicaid or that their children qualified for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. But they never got enrolled because of software defects that failed to transfer their applications to state systems, The Washington Post reported.

Idaho has been using the federal healthcare.gov website since it launched Oct. 1 to enroll people in private insurance plans offered by Your Health Idaho, the state exchange. That website also ushered Medicaid-eligible Idahoans through the process of applying for, and enrolling in, the federal-state public program for low-income and disabled people.

The Department of Health and Welfare was supposed to get a batch of “test files” it could use to verify that healthcare.gov was enrolling people according to Idaho’s tight eligibility rules.

But the files didn’t arrive in October. They didn’t arrive in November, either. The week of Dec. 16, the office received three or four files, department spokesman Tom Shanahan told the Idaho Statesman. In the meantime, the department was hearing from people who reported problems — being told they qualified for Idaho Medicaid when they didn’t, for example.

“We started becoming concerned,” Shanahan said. If people were erroneously enrolled in Idaho Medicaid, it would take six months for them to lose those benefits, he said.

So on Dec. 24, the department told federal officials that it would reclaim control of Medicaid enrollments. The department got back a package of 6,000 names in 2,500 households — people who tried to enroll — and started putting together packets with applications.

Those packets went out by mail Jan. 2, after the department’s New Year’s hustle to get them to the state’s mail contractor.

None of the people contacted had turned in applications as of Tuesday.

As for those electronic test files, they started to arrive last weekend. If it turns out everything is going right, then healthcare.gov might once again handle Medicaid applications until Idaho can get its own health exchange website’s software up and running. The state hopes to leave healthcare.gov behind later this year.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448

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