LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Thousands of families are still waiting for the health care they’re supposed to have. Computer problems have kept people from getting their Medicaid coverage for months, some going as far back as September.
When expanded its Medicaid program, the Department of Human Services changed the system it used to verify that people qualified for either Medicaid or ARKids First. The system has failed, though, leaving thousands of parents struggling to take care of their kids.
“All they tell me is, it’s processing and they don’t know how long it’s going to take, and there’s nothing we can do to fix it,” Erika O’Guinn said. “I just keep getting the run-around, the same answers every time.”
Two of Erika O’Guinn’s four children are on ARKids First. She filled out the paperwork for their annual renewal in April at the same time she renewed her Medicaid coverage. When her own coverage was approved, she assumed everything was okay.
“And then I went to go pick up a prescription for my daughter, and they said, ‘the coverage has ended, it’s $133,’” she recalled. “And I’m thinking, what on Earth?”
O’Guinn’s children are among the more than 120,000 people whose paperwork is stuck in the system. According to Amy Webb of DHS, some had information deleted from their applications because of a glitch, while others are now caught in the backlog.
“That’s what’s so upsetting, you know, it’s not just my kids,” O’Guinn stated. “And it’s the kids who need it the most, the families who can’t afford to buy their prescriptions, the kids whose families can’t afford to take them to the doctor. Those are the ones who are left without any kind of health coverage. So if they’re sick, then basically, they’re just left without. They take them to the emergency room, and then parents are left with these huge bills.”
O’Guinn’s eight-year-old daughter broke her wrist last week. They went to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for treatment, and a social worker helped file an additional application. Since it registered as “pending” in the hospital’s system, doctors could treat her, even while the state’s system malfunctions.
Since the O’Guinns live in Cabot and do not have reliable transportation, getting to Children’s is a challenge in and of itself.
“She needs to go on Monday to have another X-ray to make sure she doesn’t need a cast,” O’Guinn said about her daughter. “We’ve gotta get that done. And honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to do about that right now.”
O’Guinn is going to school to become a medical lab technician. She is most worried about what would happen if one of her kids gets sick before their health care applications are processed. Without ARKids First, she cannot take them to a physician to get a simple prescription.
“I’m not going to be depending on the state forever, but right now I need them,” she said. “My kids need them. And it feels like they’re leaving them out, you know? And it almost feels like they’re being punished because I can’t afford to provide health care for them.”
Webb said that DHS created a plan to clear the backlog of what it calls “cross-over” cases. The plan involves reassigning some staff members and hiring additional caseworkers. The plan would cost Arkansas slightly more than $2 million, and would potentially fix all the problems by the end of the year.