LEE COUNTY, Ark. - Speed bumps continue to crop up as the Arkansas Department of Human Services attempts to transfer to a new computer software system. This time, it's affecting children and families who qualify for coverage but aren't seeing their ARKids numbers activated.
Jessica Parson is the mom of three kids. She works as rural mail carrier for the Post Office six days a week, and her family home was consumed by fire in October.
Since August, she's been calling the Lee County Department of Human Services roughly three times a week, spending up to 45 minutes on the phone at a time to try and secure her children's health insurance coverage through the ARKids program.
Her children have received healthcare coverage through the program over the past decade. ARKids is health insurance paid by Medicaid for those under 18 whose families meet income and other qualifications. Hundreds of thousands of kids are eligible in Arkansas.
"I've never had the problem. My oldest son is 14 and they've been on it since they were born," Parson said.
But this year, something went wrong during the renewal process, despite DHS telling Parson her children were eligible.
"Every time I call, they tell me they're approved; they have the same number, but somebody can't hit the switch button to activate their numbers," she said.
Now, four months later, she's still waiting for two of her three kids to get the green light. One of her children was approved and activated instantly. The other two have been left in limbo.
"You're not getting the run around. We're telling you the truth," a DHS worker told Parson during a phone call she allowed KARK to listen in on. "We've sent the file up to Little Rock, but right now we do not have an answer for you."
"It's like somebody doesn't know what they're doing. What's the hold up? " Parson asked. The only response the worker could provide was that DHS was attempting to address the issue.
After Parson contacted KARK about the issue, we reached out to DHS. We gave them Parson's name and the name of her children, asking what the issue was and why it was taking so long to have the profiles activated.
"It's been four months, and she's been calling multiple times a week. It seems like she has dont everything she was supposed to do. Is that acceptable?" this reporter asked DHS spokesperson Amy Webb.
"No. It's not. That's too long for us that's not the process we set up," Webb said.
According to Webb, this summer DHS began transferring the ARKids program from the 25-year-old computer system to the department's new software. The process occurred as renewal notifications were sent out to those on the ARKids program. But it hasn't gone as smoothly as DHS might have hoped.
"We were asking the parents to go in and put in information online or through paper applications that workers would enter to do the renewal in the new system," Webb said. "In this particular case, what appears to have happened is an error as the information about the children was entered and transferred from one system to another. I imagine it would be frustrating for parents. In this case, they've done everything they needed to do," Webb said."
According to DHS, the problem the Parson family is experiencing has impacted roughly 200 other families. Webb said an unknown error has kept the profiles from registering as active when they are entered into the new system. Analysts say the errors don't appear to be uniform across all cases, and the errors can be caused by hundreds of variables as the information is transferred between the two systems.
"Two hundred cases is more than we would like to see, but considering there are more than 600,000 people going through this process, that indicates to us it is not a widespread or system-wide problem," Webb said. "Analysts are literally having to go in there and look at data files for each case affected to try and find an anomaly that caused the error."
Locally in Lee County, DHS confirmed to Parson she wasn't the only one dealing with delays, and DHS said some of the frustrations parents are experiencing may be due to the process for escalating cases like these not being followed.
"We'll be reaching out to our staff again to insure they know the process for escalating these cases to make sure they're handled correctly," Webb said. "We have a process in place and we want to make sure our staff are providing clients and parents with the information they need."
According to Parson, doctors won't set appointments for her kids without insurance showing the accounts as activated or her paying appointment costs out of pocket, upfront, that she can't afford.
"Unless we pay the $120 -$130 payment plus prescriptions we can't go to the doctor. They won't see them no more," she said. "My son just failed an eye test at school. He needs to go to the eye doctor, but I can't get him seen."
When a serious health issue for her daughter arose in September, the Emergency Room was Parson's only option, she said.
"It was the only place that I knew of that couldn't turn her away because of the insurance," she said. "And we told the hospital the issue with ARKids and DHS assured us that it would all be covered retroactively."
Despite that, Parson is being stuck with the bill, now.
"Medicaid is saying it will all be covered, it's just when they get ready to activate them. In the meantime, I have been turned over to collections for the emergency room visit, even though my kids were covered. It doesn't do anything to help my credit or keep the bill collectors from calling."
As a working wife and mom, Parson has begun to feel the frustrations pile up as she waits for a resolution to get her kids the basic care they need and are already approved to have.
As of Wednesday, Parson confirmed that DHS told her the children's profiles were now activated. She is working to book them an appointment with their primary care physician.
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