Gov. Sean Parnell has certainly had his complaints about ObamaCare, some of them—the disastrous rollout and the problem with the federal exchange website, to name a couple—are nearly universal. He has called it a “boondoggle,” and has used those issues, in part, to justify why he declined federal funds to expand the Medicaid program, the health care program partially funded by the federal government and administered by the state.
However, it appears that while Parnell was criticizing the program, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has been experiencing its own share of computer-related issues with a new system that processes Medicaid payments. In some cases, those glitches have resulted in months-long delays in Medicaid payments to doctors and other medical providers.
In a letter published in the Anchorage Daily News, a long-time Anchorage-based psychiatrist, Aron Wolf, took issue with Parnell for not accepting funds to expand Medicaid and for criticizing the problems with the federal exchange while the state is having very similar problems.
“Gov. Parnell should get his own act together and make payments for services rendered to these needy Alaskans,” he wrote.
DHSS spokeswoman Sarana Schell said that the department is updating its old payment processing system for the first time since 1987, and that with any technology project of this size, “there are bumps in the road.”
The department, Schell said, is working to fix the problems. “We’re not quite halfway through the glitches we’ve identified – about 730 down, 900 to go,” Schell said. “We are, of course, prioritizing as we go, addressing the problems that affect the most providers first.”
Schell said that DHSS processes roughly 100,000 claims a week, and expects to reimburse medical providers about $25 million a week. However, it’s currently only reimbursing about $20 million a week.
In other words, there are still about $5 million of claims each week that aren’t getting paid by DHSS.
Wolf, the psychiatrist who wrote the letter to the ADN, has a private practice. About 12 percent of his patients are Medicaid recipients. He also consults with nonprofits that are more reliant on Medicaid, all of which have had problems with billing.
“These are nonprofits with very limited budgets,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “This is causing real problems for some of them.”
DHSS is urging providers to call if they are having a problem, and assuring them that the state will make sure they are paid. It takes about two days from the time of reporting to receive a check. It also said that the department is holding regular webcasts to educate providers.
According to providers, the checks that DHSS are cutting are based on historic payments and general good faith. They say that the state is considering it an “advance.” Many providers, according to Wolf, don’t know that this is an option. Others don’t trust such a payment from the state.
Senate Rules Committee Chair Lesil McGuire, who is running for lieutenant governor, said that she has heard complaints from those who haven’t received payment for Medicaid services. She was at a meeting recently of medical professionals, many of whom were complaining about the system. One provider said that she cashed out her IRA in order to continue to stay in business rather than accept money that might be later audited and turned into an accounting nightmare.
McGuire said that the lack of communication between the DHSS and the community was frustrating. “One of the things that Alaskans hate most about government is the lack of communication,” she said. “Government should communicate with all businesses anyway, but it’s most fundamental when you’re talking about caring for the most needy, for someone’s son and daughter.”
Wolf doesn’t blame the Medicaid division for wanting to modernize the system. He also praised the Medicaid division and the people who work there. However, he thinks that it should have communicated better with the providers that there was a problem, particularly as the governor was criticizing the federal government for having similar kinds of issues with its website. He discovered there was an issue only after he hadn’t received four weeks of payments from the state.
The changes and the problems, he said, were “snuck under the rug.”
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org