Advocate: Stats show Medicaid drops after FSSA changes

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Indianapolis - Indiana's automation of welfare eligibility has bumped Medicaid recipients off eligibility rolls, an advocate for the needy said as the changes come under legislative scrutiny this week.

Medicaid enrollment dropped by 4.5 percent - from 86,574 to 82,874 in 12 north central counties where the Family and Social Services Administration piloted the welfare changes during the first five months of 2008, said Glenn Cardwell, a longtime director of the state welfare office in Vigo County now working with critics of the eligibility changes.

In the remaining 80 counties - which largely went unaffected by the welfare charges during those five months - Medicaid rolls grew from 735,703 to 755,623, or 2.7 percent, Cardwell said Monday.

"It tells me that the people's complaints are real," Cardwell said. "They're submitting all the information that's called for, but a certain number will get a notice a week or so later saying they failed to submit the required information."

A lawsuit filed in Marion County claims FSSA has denied benefits to plaintiffs when the agency was missing documents such as birth certificates or medical records - documents that the plaintiffs claimed to have delivered previously. In each case, clients received letters citing their "failure to cooperate."

A legislative study committee chaired by House Ways and Means Chairman William Crawford, D-Indianapolis, will hold a field hearing Thursday on the welfare changes and other FSSA matters in Kokomo, located in the 12-county pilot region. The hearing begins at 1 p.m. at the Kelley Student Center at Indiana University-Kokomo.

Cardwell has organized a town hall meeting on the welfare changes the day before in Terre Haute. The meeting, which begins at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Chauncey Rose Middle School, is expected to draw lawmakers, township trustees and representatives from social service agencies and faith and labor groups.

A team of vendors led by IBM Corp. and Affiliated Computer Services Inc. has a $1.16 billion, 10-year contract with FSSA to process applications for Medicaid, food stamps and other public safety net benefits received by about 1.1 million children, seniors, people with disabilities and other needy Hoosiers. The deal introduced telephone call centers, the Internet and fax services as means to apply for benefits.

FSSA rolled out the changes in the 12-county region centered around Marion last Oct. 29 and expanded it to 27 counties in southern and western Indiana on March 24. It reached 20 additional counties in northeastern and southwestern Indiana in May.

Cardwell said ACS doesn't have enough staff to handle all of the telephone calls coming in.

"They're under pressure to handle as many calls as possible," Cardwell said.

FSSA spokeswoman Lauren Auld said the agency would have no comment on Cardwell's analysis until it had a chance to study it.

However, FSSA's own numbers appear to indicate the volume of calls coming in is overwhelming the vendors.

Zach Main, director of FSSA's Division of Family Resources, released statistics last Thursday showing 11.5 percent of callers to the vendors' 800 number have abandoned their calls, or hung up, without completing them. Some were on hold for more than 10 minutes.

The goal is to eventually reduce the abandonment rate to 7 percent, Main said.

"Anytime you do a project as big as this one, you're going to find bugs in the system," Main said at a public review for his division.

The number of abandoned calls is highest on Mondays, Main said. Volume is higher on Monday because the call centers are closed on weekends.

Main said the 800 number has received more than 1.5 million calls since first becoming available in the initial, 12-county region nine months ago, and a document center in Marion has received and electronically scanned more than 1 million documents.

Main said FSSA has held eight open houses around the state to help show clients and their advocates how to navigate the new changes, and three more, in Terre Haute, New Albany and Jeffersonville, are scheduled for August.

He stressed that clients still have the option of meeting face-to-face with case workers in 107 county offices.

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