Medicaid Backlog Leaves Low-Income Tennesseeans Without Health Care

'Thousands of low-income Tennessee residents are without access to health care because the state’s $35.7 million computer system is unable to process the backlog of applicants.

TennCare administers Medicaid benefits in the state. When the system was created in 1994, it was similar to the programs recently created in Arkansas and Iowa to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Since its creation and implementation, the program has faced several challenges and the program has required several reforms.

Now the system is facing more challenges.

In July, residents filed a lawsuit against the agency, and earlier this month a U.S. District Judge ordered the agency to create timely appeals process for possibly thousands of residents who are unable to utilize the program due to the backlog of applications.

The lawsuit claims that some residents have been waiting months for their applications to be processed, causing young children go without health-care coverage and people with serious medical conditions to be denied Medicaid benefits needed to pay for critical treatment.

The state’s Medicaid problems don’t stop there.

Residents are also struggling with the TennCare website. A telephone number listed on the website that directs residents on how file an eligibility appeal is no longer operational. Forms found on the site identify the state’s Medic­aid programs with agency abbreviations instead of the publicly branded names. Residents are being required to show proof of application dates, but are not being offered help by the agency in how to secure those documents.

“We are really concerned with the form because we don’t think many (people) are going to be able to provide the written proof that they seem to be requiring,” Chris Coleman, a lawyer with Tennessee Justice Center, told the Nashville Tennessean.

Health-care advocates in California filed a lawsuit this week against the state, charging that a prolonged Medicaid application backlog had led to “suffering” among those who needed care provided by government benefits.

Tennessee is one of 23 states to not expand Medicaid under the ACA. States that have expanded Medicaid have seen 5 to 10 percent decreases in the percentage of uninsured individuals over the past year.

The percentage of uninsured individuals in Tennessee decreased by 2.4 percent over that same period.

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