Policy: Entitlements

Utah working through stalled Medicaid applications

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SALT LAKE CITY — After months of delays, Utah officials are finally beginning to grind through about 24,000 Medicaid applications that have been hung up by the federal government's online insurance marketplace.

Among other glitches, the website has had problems interfacing with Utah's system, delaying the applications of those who could be eligible for coverage under a state-federal program for low-income people.

The online marketplace, a hallmark of President Barack Obama's health care law, has been hamstrung by technical problems since its October launch. If someone shopping for coverage on the federal website appeared to be eligible for Medicaid, their application was supposed to be seamlessly transferred to Utah offices.

But the process has been gummed up for months, leaving thousands of applicants stuck in the pipeline and unable to get coverage by Jan. 1. Officials have finally developed a workaround, but it's a temporary, time-consuming process.

Staff at Utah's Department of Workforce Services, which administers Medicaid, can now view data the applications but still have to manually enter them into their systems.

"We're now playing catch-up," DWS spokesman Nic Dunn told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1hDJZdR ).

Because the federal health care law requires almost all citizens to have health coverage this year, Dunn said that Utah residents who think they may qualify for Medicaid should apply directly with DWS.

Kevin Burt, the associate director of eligibility at DWS, said his staff is working through about 12,500 Medicaid applications that came in during October and November.

By the end of next week, Burt hopes his team will be able to churning through another 11,500 applications from December.

"They've been waiting long enough so we want to work through the backlog of applications as quickly as possible," Burt said.

Beyond the workaround, DWS officials said communication between the state and federal systems is improving, but there are still enough glitches that it can't be relied upon.

Burt said applications moving in the opposite direction are still halted as well.

About 1,600 Utah residents applied for Medicaid with DWS but were determined ineligible.

Their information is supposed to be transferred to the federal website so those individuals can shop for private coverage.

But those 1,600 applications are stuck until the systems are fixed.

Federal officials said they're working to address the problem, which has been reported in other states.

Mike Fierberg, a regional spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said other states have been able to receive the applications seamlessly.

"The situations are as different as the states are," Fierberg said. "We're working with Utah Medicaid on a daily basis to work through the backlog and get people the insurance they need."

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