Over the past year the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has slowly taken over the state's role in approving travel for Medicaid care. YKHC hopes that creating a department dedicated to that task will reduce the frustrations of area clients trying to deal with the state-run system. KYUK’s Christine Trudeau sat down with YKHC representative Tiffany Zulkosky last week to go over the details outlined in a recent press release on the changes that created the Medicaid Travel Office.
Christine Trudeau: There is a press release that kind of just goes over some of the handoff here for Medicaid approval and travel functions from the state to YKHC. So could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Tiffany Zulkosky: Yeah. So YKHC is one of the first tribal health organizations in the state to take on both the approval and the travel functions for Medicaid travel. And so what that means is any time an individual who is a Medicaid beneficiary needs to travel for healthcare that’s paid for by Medicaid they have to have their travel pre-authorized. Once an individual has been seen by their healthcare provider, whether they’re in a clinic or they’re in the Bethel hospital, that information is shared with the YKHC Prior Authorization Team who reviews regulations to make sure that it actually meets the standards of what Medicaid approves for their travel. And then once it’s approved, the contact information for the travel office or travel management at YKHC is shared with the patient. So then the patient would call YKHC’s travel management office and set up travel or book their itinerary for the trip to get their healthcare, whether that’s here in Bethel or that’s outside of the region.
Trudeau: That’s been the process up until now, or that’s what the process will be?
Zulkosky: Yeah, so that’s what the new process is now. Previously, the state of Alaska used a different private vendor who did this prior authorization and travel management function for the entire state of Alaska. What we heard was that patients were on hold for long periods of time – several hours; there were limited hours on weekends and evenings. So what we have done is taken that one so we can answer phone calls 24 hours a day. We want to make sure that we’re providing our customers with the best service that we can. That being said, we know that in this transition we started taking over the travel functions subregion by subregion throughout the Y-K Delta beginning in January of this year. We assumed the Y-K Delta region in August or September. We know that there have been some challenges in implementation, so we’ve made some internal operational changes to start bringing about improvements. One of the first things that our leadership did was, previously YKHC’s travel department had several different managers that reported to Diana Murat, our Director of Medicaid services, has assumed responsibility of all of the travel management functions. The Prior Authorization Department, the Travel Management as well as Medicaid Enrollment, those now all fall under one department. We’ve also authorized emergency hires and have essentially doubled the amount of staff available to answer calls and to book itineraries for our staff. We know that that improvement takes time, particularly when we’re in this time where the season is changing and the weather gets bad, it becomes a little bit difficult. Because Medicaid approves travel, they approve Medicaid beneficiaries' travel for exact flight times, so exact flight numbers and exact flight times, so if an individual's flight is canceled because of bad weather, they have to provide an update with their provider so that Medicaid can reauthorize their travel. Otherwise the remaining segments of that ticket are going to be automatically canceled by the airlines.
Trudeau: Was this something that was causing some of the frustration before? And now you just have a pretty good remedy in place of just having more people available, and then it’s also under one roof?
Zulkosky: I think so. Getting the information out there to such a big region about this transition has been challenging. We sent some postcards to various sub-regions as we started working through assuming those Medicaid travel functions. We’ve provided information in The Messenger [YKHC’s monthly newsletter publication], but we know that that’s not always enough. And so we wanted to send out a press release that had a lot of information – the same information has been made available on the front page of our website. We’re going to be running PSA’s about it. We’re sending out ads in the newspaper so people know who they should be calling and how they can be helped. Our biggest change is that we want to funnel all of our calls to our Travel Management Office, which is (907) 543-6625. That number is for any questions. So if anybody has a flight that’s cancelled due to weather, if anybody misses a flight, if any sort of circumstances come up like that, if they call that phone number they should be able to get a hold of someone that can help them.
Trudeau: Well, thank you so much for joining us here at KYUK.
Zulkosky: Thank you so much.