Attorneys for thousands of low-income people facing Medicaid application delays in Illinois went to court this week to plead for enforcement of federal time limits.

In a 12-page motion filed Wednesday, attorneys argue the state is violating both federal law and an Illinois court order by significantly delaying Medicaid applications and denying “thousands” of residents access to health coverage.

They are asking a U.S. District Court in Chicago to enforce an existing consent decree that requires Illinois to determine eligibility for Medicaid within federal timelines and offer automatic, temporary medical assistance to anyone whose application takes longer than that to approve.

“Defendants have not provided temporary benefits to a single applicant since June 2016,” the motion claims. The state has not sent notices required by a consent decree to let applicants know they are entitled to temporary benefits, the motion adds.

Medicaid is the No. 1 payer of nursing home care.

Last month, a U.S. District Judge allowed seniors facing delays to sue as a class that included everyone who had applied for Medicaid since Feb. 1, 2015, and had not yet received a final eligibility determination or a hearing notice in a required 45- or 90-day period.

The case originated with four women ages 68 to 90, all residents of nursing homes and supportive living facilities, who sought Medicaid coverage through the state in 2015 and 2016 but were stymied by inaction.

“The declarations of (nursing facility) operators here show that each has had several applicants who died or were discharged while awaiting decisions on their applications,” Judge Joan B. Gottschall noted at the time. 

The state is required to process most applications for Medicaid within 45 days, but the plaintiffs claim eligible individuals are routinely not serviced for three to six months.

In a statement to McKnight’s, a spokeswoman for the department said the motion “seeks to enforce an existing consent decree, which has been in effect since 1979. We are aware of it but cannot comment on pending litigation.