Medicaid and Food Stamp Delays -- Is The Problem The People Or The Process?

 

The state has a problem.  People who apply for food and medical benefits often face substantial delays before finally getting their approvals.  As WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, it's an issue that has now twice ended up in federal court.
 
Advocates for the poor say the solution is in the staffing.  The state Department of Social Services says it's about efficiency, technology, and leadership.  Either way, Max -- a caller on WNPR's Where We Live -- just wants to know what he's supposed to do when he calls the state about his Medicaid benefits and can't get a person on the phone.
 
"I haven't received my application for renewal benefits, and I've called the office in New Haven many, many times.  I never get any response.  I never get any call backs.  It just seems to go in circles.  And I'm really concerned about losing the benefits."
 
It's an issue that has the state concerned, and in court.  Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the state to fully comply with federal food stamp requirements that talk about the prompt determination of eligibility.  And the state is still in court in Hartford defending itself against claims like Max's -- that it can't handle its Medicaid caseload, leaving poor patients without medical care.
 
Rod Bremby is the state's Commissioner of Social Services.  He says the problem isn't staffing alone.  It's outdated thinking, outdated processes, and outdated technology.  Like phones.
 
"We're not tone deaf to the notion that people have difficulty contact us.  In fact, they do.  The first week of every month, peopel have very difficult times getting in touch with us because our telephone systems -- and I say systems because each regional office has a phone system that is unique -- they sometimes go down.  People can't call in, we can't call out.  Those systems were never designed for the volume that they're facing today."
 
Bremby says that a long process of upgrading technology and putting in place new call centers will go far to help alleviate the problem at the Department of Social Services.  But the federal courts may still have a say in the matter, too.
 
For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.