What a fiasco.

The state reported to federal authorities that the number of people awaiting approval of their Medicaid applications was about 3,500. It turns out the real total is more than four times that much – nearly 15,500.

What’s more, most of that increase is among people waiting more than 45 days (the federal approval deadline). That total increased more than five times – from about 2,000 to 11,000.

This isn’t just a bureaucratic misstep. The processing delays can endanger the lives of vulnerable Kansans.

Brownback administration officials have apologized for the error. They blame it on a private contractor and announced last week that they were withholding a $750,000 payment to the company, Accenture. The company denies making a mistake and says it gave the state the information as requested.

But this is just the latest in a long string of problems related to application approvals.

The administration announced in 2011 a $188 million project to replace its paper-based system for enrolling in Medicaid, which was privatized and renamed KanCare in 2013. The new online system was supposed to reduce enrollment time to a day or two.

But in addition to the system being millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, the enrollment delays have gotten longer. That has caused serious financial problems for nursing homes and endangered the health of some patients. In addition, thousands of poor Kansans have incorrectly been denied Medicaid coverage.

The system has become especially difficult to navigate for people without computers – in other words, many of the low-income Kansans who need Medicaid services.

The problems got even worse when the administration decided to funnel all Medicaid applications through a single clearinghouse in Topeka. This resulted in a processing bottleneck.

A Wichita-area attorney shared with The Eagle editorial board some of his frustrations with the clearinghouse, including not being able to speak to anyone. He has been put on hold for six hours, he said, and he even tried faxing the office and asking someone to call him, but with no success.

He also related this anecdote: In February, he filed an application for Medicaid for an elderly client. After 77 days, the man’s son received a reply asking for copies of documentation (which had been included with the application). They resent the documentation, but on May 4 the man died. On May 11, the attorney wrote the state that it was no longer necessary to pursue the application. But about two weeks later, the man’s son received a letter stating that the state was denying the application because the man was not cooperating. The attorney wrote back that due to death, his client refuses to cooperate.

“You can’t make this up,” the attorney said.

That might be funny if it were not so tragic. And infuriating.

Medicaid reporting error just the latest fiasco
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