Providers go without pay in Alaska Medicaid logjam
Imagine working for six months without getting paid -- that's what the owner of an assisted living home in Anchorage says is happening to him.
The problem stems from a logjam in Medicaid processing, and the fix is in the hands of the Alaska Senate.
"We've put payrolls on credit cards before," said Alex Lommel, owner of the Marietta House assisted living facility. "And we'll go, often times, without getting paid ourselves."
Several of Lommel's residents rely on Medicaid benefits to pay rent -- benefits that are caught up in a system failure.
According to the Dept. of Health and Social Services, right now there are nearly 17,000 Medicaid applications on hold. That means the money to pay for thousands of Alaskans' care is, too.
Alaskans like Trudi Totemoff, a resident at the Marietta House.
Totemoff is recovering from a traumatic brain injury she sustained after falling down a flight of stairs in 2016. She says doctors gave her a less than 5 percent chance of survival.
"I'm grateful to be able to walk and talk and just to be here," Totemoff said.
Totemoff calls the assisted living home a stepping stone in her long-term path back to independence.
"It's a beautiful home, beautiful family. It's like a home away from home," Totemoff said.
But the money for Totemoff to stay in her home is caught-up in a system failure.
Since Alaska accepted Medicaid expansion in 2015, the Division of Public Assistance's caseload has shot-up by nearly 25 percent, with at least 100 more cases every month.
An investigation by the State Ombudsman found the division needs more employees to keep up, with the division is asking for 41 new positions.
"It's not an issue of not allocating their resources effectively, it's an issue of not having enough resources to do the work," concluded Kate Burkhart, the State Ombudsman who authored the report.
"I don't support that opinion that the department is using resources as wisely as they can," said Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche.
The Alaska Senate removed funding for the additional employees in its version of the state budget.
"We live in a state where less than half of us work, and a third of us are on Medicaid, and we must prioritize services," Micciche said. "We have big hearts, we have had open checkbooks for the last many years, right now we have limited resources."
For now, Lommel says he's going to keep caring for people like Totemoff, whatever way possible.
"It's really sad that the victim in all of this is the residents," Lommel said
The Alaska House and Senate are still working to reach compromise on a final version of the state operating budget.
Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.