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Backlog of Medi-Cal applications under Obamacare cut to 600,000

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Obamacare: State healthcare backlog now 600,000; advocates say that's still too many
California officials say the state's Medi-Cal backlog will continue to decrease

California's ongoing backlog of Medi-Cal applications under Obamacare has been reduced by about a third since May, said officials at the state's Department of Health Care Services.

In an email to The Times, department spokesman Anthony Cava said that 600,000 Californians were now waiting to hear the status of Medi-Cal applications, and that the number was continuing to decrease "through our ongoing work with the counties."

The update -- the first in nearly two months -- came a day after healthcare advocates sent state officials a letter demanding that the healthcare department detail plans to address the bottleneck, which was as high as 900,000 people in May.

Since the launch of Affordable Care Act enrollments, an enormous influx of new applications for Medi-Cal has stymied state computer systems, making it difficult for counties, which are supposed to process applications for coverage within 45 days, to provide decisions on coverage to applicants. 

Unlike Covered California, the state-run medical insurance marketplace that operates with set enrollment periods, Medi-Cal applications are accepted year-round. The backlog represents an ever-changing, rolling population whose paperwork is pending, Cava wrote.

Healthcare advocates said they were concerned because some patients whose applications are stalled and who are unsure of their coverage status avoid seeking necessary medical care. In the letter sent to the healthcare services department Wednesday, the Health Consumer Alliance detailed difficulties faced by 17 Medi-Cal applicants around the state.

One was described as a college student who allowed an infection to progress for more than a month while his family waited for a decision on Medi-Cal coverage. The family's application is still pending after six months, according to the letter.

Another case cited was said to involve a 57-year-old man in Los Angeles County who had his Medi-Cal card but was told by medical providers that his coverage had never been activated. Attorneys had to intervene to activate his benefits.

Katie Murphy, managing attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County and a member of the group that sent the letter to state officials Wednesday, said legal aid groups had worked with hundreds of such cases.

She said the advocates were "pleased if there has been progress," but a large number of Californians face delays in coverage that is "still incredibly real and unacceptable."

Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access, which was not involved in the letter, said he was glad to see a new state accounting of the backlog.

"It's good that the number is less," he said. "It's not good that it's still hundreds of thousands."

Department of Health Care Services director Toby Douglas was not available for comment.

eryn.brown@latimes.com

For more on healthcare, follow me on Twitter: @LATerynbrown

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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