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A widening gap

Medicaid backlog a bad omen for HIP 2.0


There appear to be a number of reasons for the backlog in processing more than 80,000 Hoosiers for Medicaid benefits this year.

Indiana was one of 13 states that recently received a letter about the backlog from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported last week. Even though the state was among those that didn’t accept the option of expanding Medicaid eligibility, the rollout of Obamacare prompted a surge in Medicaidsignups, and the problems with the federal website delayed some of those applications from getting to Hoosiers.

After losing time to training and other problems this spring, Indiana Medicaid chief Joe Moser told IBJ, the state has cut the backlog by at least half in the last two months.

But the situation raises concern, and not just because it means thousands of Indiana citizens in need of health care still may be going without until the backlog is relieved.

In a wider sense, the Medicaid-application crunch must be a wake-up call for state health care officials.

Gov. Mike Pence has asked the federal government to approve a huge expansion of the Healthy Indiana Plan that would cover Hoosiers in the so-called health care gap: roughly 350,000 people whose income is above Medicaid cutoffs but who are too poor to qualify for Obamacare tax credits.

But if it’s approved, implementing HIP 2.0 would mean processing about eight times as many people as the current program is serving.

In early June, Moser and Indiana Health Commissioner William VanNess II told a Fort Wayne gathering they were confident that wouldn’t be a problem.

“We don’t expect major challenges in implementation and enrollment,” VanNess said.

Presumably, though, no one predicted the dimensions of the Medicaid-registration backlog. When Pence replaced Family and Social Services Administration Secretary Debra Minott with Dr. John. J. Wernert last month, there was speculation that the change somehow concerned the state’s ability to roll out HIP 2.0 in a timely manner. Certainly, making sure that Indiana is ready for the huge task of processing all those new applicants should be at the top of the new secretary’s agenda.

Indiana already is, in a sense, a year behind schedule because of Pence’s refusal to implement Medicaid expansion in Indiana last year. That decision left most Hoosiers in the coverage gap uninsured for at least another year.

HIP 2.0 is a good plan and deserves to get quick approval by officials in Washington. But then the spotlight will be on Indianapolis. Pence says his program can serve people better than Medicaid. That could be true – but only if it gets implemented, as promised, early next year. Indiana can’t afford any more backlogs. Real people who need medical care are depending on Indiana’s leaders to cut through the red tape and get it to them.