California outlines plan to clear Medi-Cal backlog

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California health officials said they expect to clear most of their massive, persistent backlog of pending Medi-Cal applications within six weeks.

As of June 30, the state was sitting on 600,000 applications, the vast majority of which had been pending for more than the 45 days federal law allows states to process the applications. More than 150,000 had been waiting about six months or more.

In an email Tuesday, state spokesman Norman Williams said that within six weeks, “most of the [600,000] individuals who are currently pending will be enrolled in coverage.”

Toby Douglas, California's director of health care services, outlined his plan in a letter to federal health officials Monday.

It mostly involves fixing technical glitches that have plagued the computer systems the state uses to process Medi-Cal applications.

“We have dedicated teams in all systems working to identify and fix defects,” Douglas wrote.

While the state plans to clear most of the currently pending Medi-Cal applications within six weeks, it is also expecting hundreds of thousands of new applications during that time. So by the time it expects to clear the current backlog in late August, it estimates another 350,000 applications will be in line waiting to be processed.

“The pending individuals at that point will primarily be composed of newer applicants who applied within the most recent 45 day period,” Williams wrote in his email.

Health advocates are skeptical that fixing technical problems alone will clear the backlog.

“These are all issues that they’ve been working on for some months now and the technical fixes that they’ve been working on so far haven’t reduced the backlog as far as we’d like to see,” said Jen Flory, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, one of numerous advocacy groups that have been pressuring the state to step up its processing of the pending applications.

She said state officials should do two things to ensure that people who’ve been waiting months for healthcare get it as soon as possible.

First, she said, the state should grant people who've already submitted their applications temporary coverage until their applications can be processed. Second, she said the state should delay the requirement that people already on Medi-Cal apply for renewal.

“We’d really not like to see county workers’ time spent on re-processing people who are already on the program when we think their energy should be spent on getting this backlog cleared,” Flory said.

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