Problems reported with enrollment in state's Healthy PA program
January 14, 2015 12:00 AM
Gov. Tom Corbett chose not to expand the state’s existing Medicaid plan.
By Kate Giammarise / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — From confusion about benefits to backlogs and busy signals at county assistance offices, there are some glitches with enrollment in Healthy PA, Gov. Tom Corbett’s alternative to a traditional Medicaid expansion, advocacy groups say.
“We are seeing a lot of issues with Healthy PA enrollment,” said Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, which has assisted several hundred people with their enrollment in the program. “For example, the application is asking for information it should not be, consumers [are] panicking because they applied in December and have not heard back from [the Department of Human Services], and individuals [are] having to file appeals because they were denied when they should not have been.”
Mr. Corbett chose not to expand the state’s existing Medicaid plan, but to combine federally subsidized private insurance for newly eligible enrollees with benefit changes that took effect Jan. 1 to the current Medicaid program. However, Gov.-elect Tom Wolf campaigned on transitioning away from the program in favor of expanding traditional Medicaid as permitted under the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Wolf takes office Jan. 20.
More than 150,000 households have applied for Healthy PA coverage since enrollment opened Dec. 1, according to Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, though she could not say how many people have been approved for coverage. It can take up to 45 days to process an application, she said.
Another glitch concerns Medicaid patients who should be eligible for drug and alcohol treatment and were improperly placed in plans that don’t provide that service.
“We have been working to resolve this [drug and alcohol treatment issue] since the second we found out,” Ms. Gillis said. Drug and alcohol addiction treatment providers will be paid for their services, she said.
“The importance of resolving this can’t be overstated — 2,342 Pennsylvanians lost their lives to an overdose in 2011,” said Deb Beck, president of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania.
Estelle Richman, a former secretary of the Department of Human Services under Gov. Ed Rendell and a member of Mr. Wolf’s transition team focused on Healthy PA and Medicaid issues, said she has also heard a number of concerns from advocacy groups about enrollment problems as well.
She said she believes as few as 15,000 households have successfully enrolled in Healthy PA, though Ms. Gillis disputed that figure.
“Anytime you go to a new program, there will always be some glitches and slowdowns and catch-up,” Ms. Richman said, adding that she is hopeful these problems can be worked out with more time and education.
“Have a little patience as the Wolf administration gets on its feet,” she said.
The Wolf administration still plans to transition to a full Medicaid expansion, though the timeline for that is not certain yet, she said.
“People on Medicaid are some of our most vulnerable citizens. They have physical and behavioral health problems. They have unstable living environments. Anytime you put more bureaucracy, more obstacles, more letters in front of people receiving their care, there are going to be problems,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, chairman of the state House Human Services Committee who fought vigorously for an expansion of traditional Medicaid, speaking about his ongoing concerns with Healthy PA, particularly for covering addiction treatment.
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