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Missouri Medicaid enrollments starting to rise, but challenges remain

Adrian Clark | Flickr

Administrators for Missouri’s Medicaid program told members of their oversight committee that they are getting closer to fixing their processing delays for new applicants. But the wait can still take months.  

“We are now under 13,000 pending applications. I think we will get into that normal, historical range within the next week,” said Family Support Division Director Alyson Campbell at an oversight committee meeting of MO HealthNet, the social services division that administers Medicaid in Missouri.   

Campbell presented a graph that showed the number of pending Medicaid applications for children, pregnant women and parents dropped by about 7,000 in the past four weeks. Director of the Department of Social Services, Brian Kinkade, claimed the shortened wait list was due to a computer fix on Jan. 13.

It was a simple problem, as it turned out. And within a few days several thousand applications had been processed. Obviously, the proof’s in the pudding,” Kinkade told the committee.   

Missouri was one of the states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Most states that did not expand Medicaid still saw an uptick in enrollment last year, mostly because people who hadn’t realized they qualified for the program before were newly able to sign up on the online exchanges. But, strikingly, Missouri saw a decline.

Members of the MO HealthNet Oversight Committee listen to remarks from officials from the Department of Senior Services.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the MO HealthNet Oversight Committee listen to remarks from officials from the Department of Senior Services.

Staff reductions, an expensive computer system overhaul and a push of new applications from Healthcare.gov led to significant delays at MO HealthNet. Wait times for coverage went from about 21 days to several months—even for pregnant women, said Joel Ferber of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

“We’ve very recently seen some improvement in the pregnant women cases, like over the past week. But we still are seeing long delays in kid cases and cases involving children and families.” Ferber told St. Louis Public Radio.

“This has been going on for a year. It ought to be resolved now.”

Current MO HealthNet enrollment for children, parents, seniors and people with disabilities remains about 2 percent lower than it was just five years ago.

A member of the oversight committee asked how the agency would communicate to lawmakers that the program is equipped to handle Medicaid expansion in Missouri, should it be passed by the legislature.

“We've processed darn near 100,000 applications through (Healthcare.gov) in the past year. Right now we're rejecting them. If we had Medicaid expansion we'd be approving them,” said DSS Director Kinkade. "I'm telling you, we have the capacity to process those applications." 

MO HealthNet administers Medicaid coverage and other health programs for low-income children, people with disabilities and pregnant women. The agency’s total budget is about $7.2 billion a year.