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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana is among the worst in hold times for calls about Medicaid enrollment

An annoyed woman sitting at a table holds her phone in front of her.
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Montanans seeking help over the phone with Medicaid enrollment are waiting on hold longer than residents of almost any other state. That’s according to July data from the federal agency that oversees the program.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services say Montana residents calling the state’s public assistance helpline waited an average of 37 minutes on hold in March and April. That’s the third-longest wait time in the nation, ahead of Florida and Missouri.

The data also indicate more than a third of calls to the hotline are abandoned — the fourth-highest rate in the country.

Jennifer Wagner specializes in Medicaid eligibility and enrollment at a national think tank called the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. She says variations in the data states report make it difficult to compare call center hold times and dropped calls. But, she says the numbers indicate Montanans are struggling to get help with their cases over the phone.

“And, that just represents a lack of access,” Wagner told MTPR. “It represents a customer service barrier for people to complete their renewal, to do what they’re told.”

In an email, Montana health department spokesperson Jon Ebelt said the state is taking steps to reduce wait times, like simplifying phone tree options, adjusting staffing levels and prioritizing callers who require assistance from a helpline staffer in order to keep their coverage.

Ebelt said more than 40,000 Montanans have had their coverage renewed. Nearly 34,000 lost coverage in April and May, according to the state’s online dashboard.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

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