Raleigh, N.C. — A woman waiting for Medicaid coverage finally heard from the Wake County Division of Social Services on Friday, a day after her story was featured on WRAL News.
Sarah Skeen, a single working mother, applied for Medicaid coverage through Wake County last November after a doctor found a suspicious lump in Skeen's breast and recommended a biopsy.
Skeen, who is uninsured, couldn't afford the biopsy, so she sought help.
She said she was told when she filed that she should have coverage by the end of December. Weeks later, she was informed her application had not yet been processed.
On Friday, Skeen said she received a message from a Wake County case manager, seeking additional information to get her Medicaid approved.
Several would-be donors also contacted WRAL News, asking whether they could pay for part or all of Skeen's biopsy.
"This is just overwhelming," she said. "Thank you!"
Meanwhile, Wake County Assistant Social Services Director Liz Scott confirmed that about 1,500 Medicaid applications are severely overdue.
Applications are supposed to be processed within 45 days, she said. But that's been slowed by several factors. Two are related to NC FAST, the problem-plagued benefits program the state rolled out in 2013.
First, counties had to use all available staff to catch up with backlogged food stamp cases to avoid punitive action by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While state leaders said undertrained and understaffed county offices were largely to blame for the backlog, county workers and internal Department of Health and Human Services emails showed the program itself was so dysfunctional that it was taking workers hours to enter a single case.
Scott said county Medicaid workers who were diverted to the food stamp backlog in February are now back to processing Medicaid.
Second, counties are now required to enter new Medicaid applications into NC FAST as well. While DHHS leaders say the major problems with NC FAST have been addressed, Scott says the program remains "slower than processing in our old system, and there are some system problems that are being reported and worked on."
Third, the county's social service caseload has ballooned over the past few years, while its staffing levels remained the same. Last month, the Wake County Board of Commissioners approved hiring dozens of new caseworkers and managers to help address the staffing shortfall.
Finally, the county – like every other county in the country – is receiving many new Medicaid applications through the federal marketplace for the Affordable Care Act. This effect, known as "woodworking," has nearly doubled the county's monthly workload.
DHHS could not provide statewide backlog numbers for Medicaid applications.