The state of Utah is working on a workaround to be able to pull those people in manually and still process them and make a determination about their Medicaid eligibility. We recognize they've been waiting long enough to have a decision on what they're eligible for, so they can move forward with whatever health insurance option makes sense to them and they're eligible for. —Nic Dunn, Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Workforce Services has employees manually processing applications for about 24,000 Utahns seeking health care benefits.
Utahns who accessed the federal health insurance marketplace at healthcare.gov between its launch on Oct. 1 and the end of December have been "stuck in limbo for a while" awaiting a decision on their Medicaid eligibility, said Nic Dunn, Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman.
It is estimated that 24,000 people went to the website, filled out an application and were told they were potentially eligible for Medicaid benefits.
"But their applications were never sent to us because the federal exchange wasn't set up yet to fully talk to our system," Dunn said.
Utah was given an Oct. 1 deadline to have its computer systems ready to work with the federal system, he said. Ideally, Utahns can apply on healthcare.gov and learn if they may be eligible for Medicaid.
If they are potentially eligible, the application will be sent to Utah's system, where it will be processed, Dunn said. A customer also could apply on the Utah Department of Workforce Services website, and if they aren't eligible for Medicaid, that application could be sent to healthcare.gov to determine what other options are available.
"We had everything in place to be ready to meet that Oct. 1 deadline, but we were essentially waiting on the federal exchange to get its pieces in order to be able to meet that deadline and it didn't happen just because of delays the federal exchange was facing," Dunn said.
A number of Utahns went to healthcare.gov and were told they might be eligible for Medicaid, but because of the system error, the applications didn't make it to Utah's system for processing.
Mike Fierberg, spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service's Denver regional office — which covers six states, including Utah — said he believes the applications made it to Utah around Dec. 9.
Dunn said his office became aware of the applicants and had enough information to start reaching out to them by mid-December.
"The inherent problem with this (was) the data we were getting from the federal exchange didn't have everything we needed to be able to process these people," he said. "They were incomplete or inaccurate. Sometimes the data was missing a digit in a Social Security number or maybe an address was wrong."
Those are the issues Utah is now trying to sort through to get the applications processed.
"The state of Utah is working on a workaround to be able to pull those people in manually and still process them and make a determination about their Medicaid eligibility," Dunn said. "We recognize they've been waiting long enough to have a decision on what they're eligible for, so they can move forward with whatever health insurance option makes sense to them and they're eligible for."
He said the manual efforts will hopefully ease some frustrations with the delays in processing.
"We recognized that we had to do something in Utah to move things along a little bit, and that's what we're doing right now," Dunn said.
Fierberg said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service have been working with Utah "to untangle" the issue and that they have an information technology team working with Utah on a daily basis.
"We're still working on making sure the coordination works properly all the time," he said. "The site, in general, is performing quite well. It is operating smoothly for the vast majority of users now."
Contributing: Brianna Bodily