State sued over Medicaid application backlog

Published: Mar. 1, 2019 at 5:55 PM AKST
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The state of Alaska is facing s a lawsuit for failing to process Medicaid applications in the time frame required by federal law.

Medicaid applications are supposed to be processed within 45 days, or within 90 days if it involves determining a disability.

As of February, at least 15,000 Alaskan have submitted an application that has not been processed. At least 10,000 of those applications were submitted in 2018.

"We've been following the problem for some years and hoping that it would get redressed, and it seemed to be getting worse and worse no matter what issues are raised to the state," attorney James Davis said.

Davis, an attorney with the Northern Justice Project civil rights law firm, filed the suit on behalf of one client with intent for it to be certified as a class-action case. Davis' client applied for Medicaid in November, but still has not had her application processed.

"The state doesn't have to provide her with medical benefits. It could say, 'No, you're not eligible,' for one reason or another. It could just give her an answer, but the state hasn't either approved her or denied her, so she's just left in limbo, which is what literally tens of thousands of other applicants just like her are-- in a state of limbo," Davis said.

No representative from the Department of Health and Social Services or the governor's office responded to requests for comment Friday, but a webpage on the DHSS website is dedicated to information on the application backlog.

The website states that applicants who have submitted an application in the last 90 days and have not received notice of their status do not need to submit a new application. The website states that the office will have limited services three days a week so staff can focus on addressing the out-of-date workload.

"There is no factual debate," Davis said. "I think the state is going to concede that it's violating the law. The question is how best to fix it, and there has to be a will to fix it."

Davis says the purpose of the lawsuit is to have the court order the state to comply with existing laws.

"We're not saying, Give people Medicaid/Don't give them Medicaid,' but at least follow the law and give them a decision on whether or not they're entitled to Medicaid or not," Davis said. "It's just a matter of giving them a yes or a no. People have a right to a yes or no and I think people have a right to ask the state government to follow the law just like the rest of us."