APPLICATIONS LOST, NOT PROCESSED, REPORT SAYS
At this time in 2015, the State of Alaska had 9,175 applications for Medicaid that were considered “out of time frame.”
That meant the applications were backlogged for more than 30 days. Some applications went back a year, which meant low-income, children, elderly, and disabled Alaskans were suffering because they couldn’t get qualified for Medicaid.
Then along came the tsunami — the Obamacare Medicaid expansion population brought on by Gov. Bill Walker with a stroke of the pen, over the objections of a majority of legislators. By 2018, the backlog of applications had increased to 20,000.
As critics predicted, the new applicants of able-bodied adults who earn up to 38 percent more than the federally established poverty level are crowding out the truly sick and needy.
Complaints started coming in: Applications were lost; there was no way to get a response from the Division of Public Assistance. The State Ombudsman’s Office was receiving more than two complaints every working day — over 400 in a year from both the regular Medicaid recipients and the new applicants under expansion.
The office had been working with DPS on individual Alaskans’ cases to try to get them resolved, but saw no improvement.
In January of this year, the Ombudsman’s Office initiated an investigation. It did a deep dive into the processes and challenges at the Division of Public Assistance. It looked over the shoulders of workers who were trying their level best to determine eligibility in an enormously complicated system.
The office’s report, released in May, documents a systemic failure of the Department of Health and Social Services under the direction of Commissioner Valerie Davidson to roll out the Medicaid expansion program in a way that would not harm the existing non-expansion population.
The Ombudsman’s report shows an agency overwhelmed by the flood of Medicaid expansion applicants, with a 24 percent increase in applications since Gov. Bill Walker grew the program starting Sept. 1, 2015.
Although the agency has not been able to retain its key workforce in this program, with a 54 percent turnover in the eligibility specialists and office assistants at DPS year over year, the Legislature authorized another 20 positions to address the growing backlog. The department had asked for more than double that amount.
The division now has the challenge of trying to prop up morale in the existing workforce, while hiring and training for dozens of unfilled or new positions, and answering the needs tens of thousands of Alaskans who are knocking on the door for an entitlement promised to them by the Walker Administration.