When the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was signed into law, it mandated that most taxpayers have some form of health insurance. For those who are not granted health insurance by their employer, or those who cannot afford private insurance, they are eligible for state Medicaid programs. New Jersey was required to expand its Medicaid program to accommodate the influx of new applicants after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The expansion has been popular here. At last count, Medicaid enrollment has grown by 25 percent in the past year, bringing the state rolls to 1,666,558 or over a sixth of the state’s population.
Similar to the implementation of the federal program, New Jersey wanted to update its systems, so it contracted with Hewlett Packard (for $118 million) to upgrade all systems and implement a website for enrollment. It got a substantial amount of federal money to implement this program.
While the federal Affordable Care Act website has been repaired, the New Jersey Medicaid system remains in chaos. An estimated 11,000 people are still trapped in a tangle of digital red tape and a bureaucratic maze. These families are unable to enroll in the state’s Medicaid program, leaving them in limbo for months and, in some cases, almost a year. In short, New Jersey’s plan to have its ambitious computer upgrade ready for the crunch of new Medicaid enrollees under Obamacare ended up “a colossal failure,” said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. Hewlett-Packard was removed as the project’s contractor, and the state has reverted to reviewing often incomplete paper applications by hand. In addition, the individual county systems don’t interface with the centralized state system.
The logjam resulted in applicants postponing medical care or simply doing without it, according to health care professionals and the applicants themselves. While hospitals and federally funded clinics are required to treat patients as if they are insured, private doctors have no such obligation. The state is scrambling to clear the logjam, but county workers are marred in delays – often required to input data by hand and process multiple applications from the same applicants.
The New Jersey Medicaid fiasco looks to continue for the foreseeable future. The state has no comprehensive plan to fix the issues or clear the logjam as applicants wait for responses, rack up substantial medical bills, or forego receiving needed care.