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SNAP processing hits significant milestone

North Dakota Health and Human Services (HHS), along with its human service zone partners, has completed the 13-month federal initiative to determine eligibility for North Dakota Medicaid members whose coverage was temporarily extended due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Since April 2023, the human service zones have reviewed eligibility renewals for over 134,000 ND Medicaid members. HHS data shows that six in 10 North Dakotans who returned their renewal form retained coverage. Those who no longer qualified either did not return their renewal forms, had an increase in income or assets or found other health care coverage.

With approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, HHS implemented several strategies to streamline Medicaid administrative processes to help reduce barriers for members, and many of the strategies are now part of the state’s standard operations.

“This initiative was a monumental task for our HHS team and partners at the human service zones,” said HHS Medical Services Division Director Sarah Aker. “It was the largest initiative since the state launched the Medicaid Expansion program in 2014. Eligible North Dakotans continue to have essential healthcare coverage due to these efforts.”

Among the most notable enhancements include removing the burden of providing income verification from members by leveraging income information from approved data sources available in the state's eligibility system. Additionally, the enhancement allowed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Dakota to assist Medicaid Expansion members with renewals.

The state also made improvements to its online self-service portal used by members to manage their benefits and leveraged text and email technology to encourage members to complete their renewal paperwork to avoid possible gaps in their coverage.

“These text and email reminders proved to be an effective way to reach members and will continue to be part of our member communication strategy,” Aker said.

Addressing needs across other programs

Individuals sought out more services to support their health and well-being during the pandemic. This had a substantial impact on the human service zones and the extra workload caused a wait time for applications for economic assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

To address pending applications, HHS strengthened its partnership with the human service zones in a focused, mission-driven effort to increase efficiencies, prioritize the workload and improve processing times.

While the state has seen measurable improvements, efforts are still underway to achieve a 95% federal timeliness rate for processing SNAP applications in the coming months.

“Over the past three months, we’ve been able to move the needle and improve response times across the board. Since March 1 human service zone staff processed almost 38,000 applications and reviews. We truly hope people are feeling the positive impact of more timely responses for all programs. The teams are working hard to make that happen,” said HHS Economic Assistance Section Director Michele Gee.

“I couldn't be more proud of our team and the partnership we have with the zones,” said HHS Commissioner Wayne Salter. "They collectively answered the call to do better for North Dakotans, and we are well on our way. We have improved from 55% application timeliness in January to the current status of 93%, we are just under the federal time standard of 95% and will continue to press toward the mark.”

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