At this point, people who rely on Medicaid practically expect problems with the system to arise. For example, last year’s problems with NCFast—the computer program that signs people up for food stamps and Medicaid—caused a backlog in applications that left thousands of North Carolinians without assistance for months.
This month marks the one year anniversary of an even more infamous Medicaid misadventure: NCTracks. NCTracks is a new computer processing system that is supposed to streamline reimbursement to healthcare providers who treat people on Medicaid. NCTracks is the largest, most complex technology project in state history and the first public multi-payer system in the United States. The only problem is… it didn’t work.
As soon as NCTracks debuted on July 1st, 2013—five years behind schedule—the complaints started pouring in. The system delayed or rejected payments to thousands of doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers. The situation came to a head in January 2014, when some NC physicians went so far as to sue the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees Medicaid).
“NCTracks has made billing go from complex to borderline impossible,” said Sandra Williams, the chief financial officer at Cape Fear Valley Health System.
The January lawsuit had the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) kicking into high gear—and after eleven months of hard work, a fixed version of NCTracks went into effect last month. The Department celebrated with the release of a controversial video, which features doctors and other healthcare providers congratulating NCTracks on a job well done.
Some media outlets poked fun at the video for calling NCTracks a success, given the system’s rough start. All in all, however, NCTracks has won over most doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers in the past few months. Joe Cooper, chief information officer for DHHS, says: “We went from a system that was very paper-based—lots and lots of paper forms—to now a system that is almost totally electronic.” It doesn’t hurt that NCTracks will save taxpayers $3 million a month.
But the saga with NCTracks doesn’t end here. Even with doctors now getting paid what they’re owed, additional problems face NCTracks. The billing delays during NCTrack’s first eleven months of existence have left fiscal researchers without firm budget numbers. This means that our lawmakers have to guess how much money to set aside for Medicaid in next year’s budget. As you might imagine, this has only fueled the contention in budget negotiations.
Hopefully, by NCTracks’ second anniversary, the system will be back on track.