NJ Faces Medicaid Application Backlog

By Christie Duffy

Where’s my Medicaid card?

That’s what thousands would like to know in New Jersey. Consumer advocate Maura Collinsgru says she’s been fielding hundreds of calls from desperate patients.

“I mean we have people calling saying, ‘I can’t afford my medicine. What can I do?’ They’ve not heard anything. They call the 800 number for New Jersey family care. And they’re told they will receive a packet in the mail but as of yet they have not gotten one,” said NJ Citizen Action Health Policy Advocate Collinsgru.

By all accounts, the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act has been a success in New Jersey with applications rolling in. But processing all that paperwork put social workers and the state in a bind.

Of the over 30,000 new Medicaid applications submitted in January and February, only 16 percent have been processed, according to federal data.

Middlesex County Social Services has gotten through only a third (3,000) of their 10,000 new applicants to the low income insurance program. They’re fielding a flood of phone calls from folks who continue to wait.

“They want to know the status of their application. They haven’t heard anything yet,” said Virginia Nelson, administrative supervisor at Middlesex County Social Services.

New Jersey is one of only three states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, without setting up its own health care marketplace website.

County officials had also expected lots of help from state computer software. That should’ve been deployed last fall. It wasn’t. Posters here still boast, “coming soon!” Instead applications are being processed the old fashioned way — by hand.

“And so that’s delayed us. And then there is the pure volume, and the manual entry, and just being able to have enough people to take care of all the applications,” Nelson said.

The state says nearly 250,000 applicants have been enrolled. They blame the backlog on technical issues with the website — that have since been resolved. Although workers and advocates admit the federal site is not the main problem, they say applications processed through it contained errors.

“That is actually not seeming to be the case for consumers we’re hearing from,” Collinsgru said.

This backlog may not go away any time soon. Adults enrolled must renew their Medicaid eligibility every 12 months. And unless something changes, social workers will be working with the same limited software, staffing and funding they have now.