Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Sheldon Toubman, an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance Association (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 9:30 a.m.) Last week attorneys in a class action lawsuit asked the court to extend the consent decree with the Department of Social Services for two more years because they say the state is again falling behind in processing Medicaid applications.

Under the court order that expires on July 1, DSS was required to process 92 percent of all Medicaid applications. But that hasn’t happened.

With respect to applications for Husky A,C, and D, programs that serve low-income families and children, DSS failed to maintain full compliance for 15 of the 17 months between September 2015 and January 2017 (the last date for which timeliness data is available), according to attorneys with New Haven Legal Assistance Association.

Long-term care cases are now processed timely in 88 percent of the cases, but since August 2015, through and including January 2017, DSS has not achieved full compliance in any month for the timely processing of long-term care cases, attorneys for the lead plaintiff in the case say.

“We had no choice but to seek a two-year extension of the court order given that DSS is out of compliance with the court order, has been for some time, and the pattern is actually worsening,” Shelley White, litigation director with New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said in a press release. “And we are seeing a worsening of processing at DSS generally, with its call center putting vulnerable people going without benefits on hold an average of 54 minutes, with some waiting 1.5 hours or more to get through.”

Last week, Sheldon Toubman, another one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, noted that there has been a reduction in DSS staffing at least based on attrition during the period that processing times have gotten worse, and he also noted a concern that conditions still could get worse.

The Department of Social Services declined to comment on its staffing at a meeting a few weeks ago with a group that oversees the Medicaid program in the state.

“DSS is already grossly out of compliance with a federal court order requiring timely processing of Medicaid applications,” Toubman said. “It is frightening to think that it could get worse if the 200 or so proposed layoffs of DSS workers threatened by the governor in the event there is not an approved deal with the unions were to come to pass. They can’t comply with court orders even with their existing staffing levels.”

The state said their wait times for clients have increased to an average of 54 minutes due to the training of staff on a new, web-based computer system that will replace the legacy Eligibility Management System.

Rank-and-file union members are expected to vote in mid-July on a concession package that will save the state more than $1.5 billion over the next two years. If they fail to ratify the agreement, there could be up to 4,200 state employee layoffs.

The Department of Social Services has requested a 45-day extension from the court in order to respond to the motion to extend the court order.

David Dearborn, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services said Tuesday that overall Medicaid is now covering up to 770,000 low-income individuals.

“That’s a huge number of people being served with critical health benefits,” Dearborn said.

He added that “DSS is timely processing just under 94 percent of all Medicaid applications, which is far superior to several years ago. In fact, for both the Medicaid expansion group and the large children and parent group, our timeliness rate is over 97 percent.”

The attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case have signaled they will file a motion for contempt in the near future if the department continues to drag its feet.

The department signaled in a court motion that it’s open to extending the settlement agreement another two years and believes both sides would benefit from a referral to a third party to mediate those negotiations.