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County, state combine resources

by Alecia Warren
| June 24, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Help can't come fast enough for those who can't cover their hospital bills.

Now it will at least come with fewer delays.

The Kootenai County commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding this week between the county and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to expedite the application process for individuals seeking assistance with medical expenses.

"County assistance is not only dragging our budget, but also dragging the state's budget," said Commissioner Rick Currie after the commissioners approved the measure at a meeting on Tuesday. "This is a good step in the right direction to control some of those medical costs."

Among other things, the MOU establishes a combined assistance application for the county and state. The forms will first process through the state to determine whether individuals qualify for Medicaid. If not, applications will be forwarded on to county assistance.

This cuts down delays for both applicants and county staff, because the county has often processed applications only to discover the individuals could be eligible for Medicaid, said Carrie McCrite, welfare director for Kootenai County Assistance.

"It increased the workload, and it delayed services in some cases, because the county has to have proof it's the last resource (to give assistance)," McCrite said. "In the long run, we're hoping once this gets established and we work out all the bugs and kinks, it will be a smooth system and we'll be able to get people in the right place the first time."

The MOU also gives county staff access to the Idaho Benefit and Eligibility System, which contains the state's information on applicants like address and income.

This will aid the county's investigations of who qualifies for assistance, McCrite said.

"Sometimes we'll get information that's a bad address, and we don't have access to other things that will give us more current information," she said. "Sometimes we'll get blank applications that will have no information at all on demographics or who's in the household or who's working."

The IBES will also allow the county to track the state's decision on whether individuals qualify for Medicaid, McCrite said, so county staff doesn't have to wait to be notified.

"This is going to be a big help as far as our time goes," she said.

Extra time is needed, she added, as the county's indigent program is flooded with applications these days.

Last year the county processed 1,834 applications, she said. This year the office has already seen 1,014.

"Definitely the economic strain has increased our workload," she said, adding that 98 percent of applications are generated from hospitals.

The state will provide training soon for county staff on how to navigate the IBES.

The Department of Health and Welfare is establishing MOUs like this one with counties across Idaho, said Tony Poinelli, deputy director of the Idaho Association of Counties.

"It provides greater access to information and hopefully will help the counties make better decisions," Poinelli said. "It's trying to build a relationship, too, between the state and the counties."

The county-state cooperation is possible because of new state legislation that goes into effect July 1, said Tom Shanahan, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

"I think it helps support the counties, because if they (individuals) are Medicaid eligible, then Medicaid should be paying for their treatment," Shanahan said.

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