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TennCare Application Delays Cause Frustration - John Dunn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Trouble with TennCare has many people very frustrated and waiting for answers. Now a whistleblower has come forward to say that people are suffering, and the system to get people enrolled is broken.

Prior to January you could sign up for TennCare by coming to an office and speaking to a person face to face. Now, when you come to an office you'll have to apply at a computer. Some say that is where the problems begin.

Chris Zimmer has made countless phone calls trying to sign up for health coverage.

Zimmer, who suffers from osteoarthritis, applied two and a half months ago for a part of TennCare. Although he is certain he qualifies, he is still not approved. "So nobody really has a definitive answer as to what's happening, and why it's happening. You just wait everyday for some sort of news to come," says Zimmer.

Advocacy and patient groups around the state confirm it's a serious problem. Tennesseans are asked to go to the federal marketplace to apply for TennCare. The state is supposed to approve those applications, but in some cases there are long delays.

"Their reasoning behind it is that the state is so overwhelmed," says applicant Leslie Reale.

Leslie Reale is six months pregnant and is still waiting on TennCare approval. She says the process is confusing, and when she calls for help nobody seems to have answers. "One time I counted on my phone 23 numbers in one day, and I just ended up back at the same number I started at," says Reale.

Isis Kopel is a supervisor at TennCare's customer service call center, which is called the Tennessee Health Connection. "People are falling through the cracks. Applications are missing. Nobody has any accountability, and people are suffering and that is a problem," says Kopel.

Kopel is speaking out because she believes the approval system is broken, and she gets upset taking calls from sick people who are not getting help. "Somebody has to know about it. The public needs to know about this. They need to know what's really happening, and it starts from the top down," says Kopel.

No one at TennCare wanted to speak on camera, but in emails to FOX 17 News they say applications are going unapproved because additional information is still needed from applicants. Other problems could also delay records being sent from the federal government to the state. TennCare says it "continues on a daily basis to attempt to identify further steps we can take to assist Tennessee citizens through this transition."
 
TennCare points out nearly 60,000 applicants have been approved. People like Chris Zimmer and Leslie Reale want their own answers soon. "Who is suffering. Not them. I'm the one suffering," says Zimmer.

"There's no reason I should be six months pregnant with no insurance," says Reale.

Eventually Tennessee plans to launch its own computer system called TEDS where people can sign up for TennCare. The state wants to make sure the new system works properly. In the meantime, applicants still have to use healthcare.gov to apply for coverage.

For news updates follow John Dunn on twitter @WZTVJohnDunn

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