The Fister family in Missoula has been struggling for months with an unresponsive Medicaid office at the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS). The family faced enormous hurdles while attempting to get funds to help two relatives suffering with Alzheimers.  Recently a judge ruled in favor of the Fisters, and lambasted Montana DPHHS for failing to function properly. Health Department Director Richard Opper says changes are underway.

"We don't want this to be duplicated by any family in Montana ever again," Opper said. "Medicaid, obviously, serves a very large population in Montana and it's a very, very complex process. It's come upon us as a state that we make sure we have a medicaid policy that's as understandable to the public as possible."

One of the main issues was a new computer system which came into use just as demand for Snap Benefits, medicaid and other services were at peak demand.

"It's kind of a perfect storm of issues that arose with the program that was introduced too early at the time and the need was highest, so I think a lot of our clients were probably affected to one degree or another," Opper said. "If nothing else, it took longer to get an answer from the department about whether or not they were eligible. Again, many of those problems are being fixed. They've certainly been cataloged and prioritized."

The state will pay the medicaid payments to the Fisters to help care for their parents, however, the Fister family will still be stuck paying the court fees. Opper says many Montanans likely suffered from delays because of the new computer system.

Opper also expressed extreme regret over the problems the Fisters faced at the Medicaid office and said that although he hopes it was an isolated event, Montana DPHHS is performing "internal planning to prevent things like this from happening again."

Richard Opper: