Medi-Cal backlog hits 900,000 as computer problems persist

A group assembles to learn about their Obamacare options at Our Lady of Peace Parish in North Hills in February. Because of problems traced to state computer systems, 300,000 Medi-Cal applications are backlogged in L.A. County.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Around 900,000 Medi-Cal applicants statewide -- 300,000 of them in Los Angeles County -- are still awaiting final processing of their applications, state and local officials said Wednesday.

The state backlog grew by 100,000 during the month of April, as new applications for the state’s healthcare program for the poor continued pouring in and stubborn problems with computer systems persisted.

In Los Angeles County, where numbers of pending applications rose dramatically, workers for the Department of Public Social Services have been chipping away at the backlog, department assistant director Anjetta Venters-Bowles said.


In the two-week period between April 13 and April 27, staff members processed 23,000 applications, Venters-Bowles said. But their progress has been stymied by ongoing problems getting state computer enrollment systems to communicate with county computers, she added.

“We’re still having stability issues,” she said.

About 38,000 of Los Angeles County’s 300,000 pending applications were submitted before the end of January. By law, counties are supposed to complete Medi-Cal applications within 45 days of receipt.

On April 6, The Times reported a statewide backlog of 800,000 Medi-Cal applications, and a county backlog of about 200,000.

At the time, some in Los Angeles County who awaited final confirmation of their enrollment said they were putting off visits to the doctor. Healthcare advocates reported that patients were afraid of getting stuck with a full-price bill they wouldn’t be able to pay.

Norman Williams, a spokesman for the California Department of Health Care Services in Sacramento, said the state was continuing its efforts to make the computer systems work.

Last week, he noted, the state launched a new feature that speeds residency verification -- one of the hoops workers must jump through to complete a Medi-Cal application.


But the state was “not satisfied” with the progress it had made thus far, Williams added.

“The adjustments we need to make to the system are urgent,” he said. “We’re devoting a lot of energy to resolving the problems.”

Williams said that half of California’s 900,000 pending applications still fell within the 45-day grace period. In early April, Venters-Bowles told The Times she thought Los Angeles County would be be able to process all its applications within 45 days by the end of May.

On Wednesday, she said that could only happen if the state’s computers remained stable in coming weeks.

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