Backlog begets backlog: NC food stamp woes create queue for Medicaid

The state's efforts to address a backlog in food stamp applications has worsened delays in processing Medicaid applications - and led to a long anxious wait for one Raleigh woman.

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Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — The state's efforts to address a backlog in food stamp applications has worsened delays in processing Medicaid applications.

State officials couldn't provide an estimate of how many Medicaid applications are overdue across North Carolina, but about 1,700 families in Wake County alone are waiting for approval so they can obtain needed medical care.

Sarah Skeen, for example, applied for Medicaid in Wake County five months ago after a routine physical at a Planned Parenthood clinic found a lump in one of her breasts.

A follow-up breast scan, arranged through the Komen Foundation, found a second lump. One, doctors said, needs to be biopsied.

Skeen, who is not insured, couldn't afford the cost of a biopsy, so she turned to Medicaid for help.

"I filled everything out, submitted all my paperwork, and I was told by the woman at the counter (it would be approved at the) latest December, maybe the beginning of January," Skeen said Thursday.

That date came and went. Skeen has been calling Wake County's Division of Social Services every few days for updates on her application. Lately, she says, she can't even leave a message – the voicemail boxes are full. 

"They haven’t even looked at my application. That’s the one answer I have managed to get," she said. "It’s really a joke. Not a funny joke, but it’s a joke."

"It’s an urgent matter," she said. "If I had my Medicaid and I went into the doctor and said I need a biopsy, they’d give me my biopsy. What if it’s cancer? They’re not going to make you wait."

County DSS Assistant Director Liz Scott said she couldn't discuss Skeen's case due to privacy rules, but she said Wake County would focus its resources on the Medicaid backlog as soon as the food stamp backlog is cleared.

The state faces a March 31 deadline to clear all overdue food stamp applications or risk losing federal money that helps administer the program.

The state's decision to shift Medicaid applications to the back burner in recent weeks comes at a time when the Affordable Care Act online marketplace is sending more applicants into the queue.

"Something needs to be done," Skeen said. "There are people sick. There are people suffering. There are people who need help, and they can’t get it right now."

She said she makes just enough money at her Web design job to meet the monthly bills for herself and her 9-year-old daughter. Cancer treatment, if needed, can't fit into her budget.

She's never asked for help before, even though she would qualify. "At the end of every week, I'm counting my change out, but I make it," she said. "I like being self-sufficient. I like not having to ask for help. That’s me. But I need help. I need medical care. And I can’t get it right now."

Skeen is on a waiting list for financial help at Rex Hospital, and she's trying to stay positive for her daughter, but after five months, her patience is wearing thin.

"It's a very long time, and its very scary," she said.


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