Missouri took an average of 101 days to process applications to join the state’s low-income health care program in April — more than twice as long as is allowed under federal law.
A top official in the department overseeing that program pledged Wednesday that by the end of July, wait times would be down to 45 days, in compliance with federal law. Kim Evans, the director of the Family Services Division that oversees MO HealthNet (Missouri’s Medicaid program), told lawmakers Wednesday that the application processing time should be down to 30 days by the end of August.
Those numbers would be a drastic departure from recent months: in March, the average wait time was 83 days; and in February, 81 days, according to the department’s most recent monthly report.
Officials have said the long wait times are due primarily to severe staffing shortages, leaving the state unable to wrap its arms around a flood of new applicants after the courts ordered Missouri to enroll new patients under expansion, despite lawmakers’ refusal to fund that expansion last year.
As of April, there were 63,488 applications pending. A total of 178,237 new patients have been enrolled in the program since October 2021, according to a database from Kaiser Health News — around 65 percent of the estimated 275,000 who are eligible under expansion.
The imminent expiration of a federal emergency public health declaration from the pandemic also complicates the process. Once the White House allows that expiration to happen, states will need to review eligibility of their residents enrolled in the program.
But Evans said the department was working with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, as well as offering overtime to staff, to cut down the application backlog and reduce wait times. State worker pay, which has led to frequent turnover and vacancies throughout government, was bumped under both an emergency spending plan and the new annual budget passed by lawmakers this past session.
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Asked about the issue during a town hall event in Springfield on Thursday, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade and Rep. Betsy Fogle, both Democrats, said they were optimistic but skeptical about the projected timeline by the department.
Quade complimented Gov. Mike Parson’s office for hearing and addressing concerns from lawmakers on the issue, and pointed to recent regulation changes that would allow call center employees in the department to work remotely.
Fogle said lawmakers had been hearing promises of shorter wait times “for months,” but said she was “hopeful that the department will keep to their word and be able to reduce those wait times back to much more manageable ones.”