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Missouri hopes to finally shrink its months-long wait times for Medicaid coverage

Sharon Coleman (left) signs an authorization form allowing application counselor Sunni Johnson to submit Coleman’s Medicaid application online. Coleman is one of the roughly 275,000 people in Missouri who are newly eligible for Medicaid after voters in 2020 approved expansion of the federal-state health care program for those with low incomes. Fewer than 20,000 people had been enrolled in expansion through Nov. 26, a much slower pace than other states that expanded the program recently. (Bram Sable-Smith/KHN)
Bram Sable Smith
/
KHN
Sharon Coleman (left) signs an authorization form allowing application counselor Sunni Johnson to submit Coleman’s Medicaid application online. Coleman is one of the roughly 275,000 people in Missouri who are newly eligible for Medicaid after voters in 2020 approved expansion of the federal-state health care program for those with low incomes. Fewer than 20,000 people had been enrolled in expansion through Nov. 26, a much slower pace than other states that expanded the program recently.

Missouri officials vowed again Wednesday to lower the number of days it takes to process Medicaid applications — which was an average of 101 days in April — and come into federal compliance with the maximum of 45 days.

“We’ll get to a place where we should be processing in under 45 days by the end of July,” Kim Evans, director of the Family Support Division, told MOHealthNet Oversight Committee on Wednesday.

And by the end of August, it will be 30 days, she said.

But when oversight committee asked how many days it takes to process an application currently, Evans said she hadn’t seen the numbers.

“So this is the beginning of June,” said Sen. Jill Schupp, a Creve Coeur Democrat and committee member, “and you’re saying in two months, we’ll be at 45 days?”

As of Wednesday morning, there were 58,000 Missourians who had Medicaid applications pending, Evans said, and the state is working with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on a “mitigation plan” of how they will get the pending applications completed.

The state has repeatedly pointed to staffing shortages as being the main reason behind the application backlog.

“We are offering overtime to our staff,” Evans said. “I’m getting ready to send out some incentive, hoping to encourage them to work some additional overtime so that we can meet our milestones.”

They are also trying to hire new employees, she said, but it takes three to four months to get someone trained to start processing applications.

However, advocates and experts have said that the problem lies in Missouri’s decision to review each application individually, rather than accepting information verified by the federal government that could cut down on the number of Missouri employees necessary.

After prompted by a question from Schupp, Evans said this was part of the plan to meet their new milestones. Evans’ team saw that other states were processing applications more quickly using this information, but they lacked the computer coding knowledge to follow their lead, she said.

“I should hear something tomorrow with our teams that are working in the eligibility system,” she said. “We gave them till tomorrow to give us a plan of how quickly we could get some of this implemented.”

Another big piece of the backlog problem is the state’s customer service call center, where applications are processed and phone calls are answered regarding a variety of benefits — including Medicaid, temporary assistance and food stamps. The Family Support Division within the Department of Social Serices operates the center, and wait times have been hours long.

As she consistently does at board meetings, Schupp asked about the call wait time. Evans said she didn’t bring that information to the meeting, but that she thought it was under an hour.

“I don’t know if you have a target to lower the wait time,” Schupp said. “It’s really hard for a lot of people to be able to wait even for an hour, and that’s certainly a lot better than where we were before. We need to keep on top of that and see what we need to do to improve those waiting times.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.

Rebecca Rivas covers civil rights, criminal justice and immigration for the Missouri Independent

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