LITTLE ROCK — Since May, the state Department of Human Services’ backlog of overdue Medicaid eligibility verification cases has been reduced from about 146,000 to a little under 9,000, DHS Director Cindy Gillespie told a legislative task force Wednesday.

The agency is on track to eliminate the backlog by Dec. 31, Gillespie told the Health Reform Legislative Task Force, which met to put the final touches on a report it will present to the governor and the Legislature this month.

DHS began experiencing a backlog of cases after the launch of the state’s Medicaid expansion program in 2013, which now serves about 300,000 low-income Arkansans. The state is required under federal law to verify the eligibility of all new applicants and to check the eligibility of all participants once a year.

The backlog also includes participants’ reports of changes of circumstances, according to Gillespie.

Gillespie, who took over as DHS director March 1, first told legislators in June she had a plan for eliminating the backlog by the end of this calendar year.

The plan involved entering into a contract with Maximus, a company that has helped other states improve their enrollment and eligibility verification systems, to help process cases. The contract expires Dec. 31 with no option for extension and is performance-based.

E-Systems, a vendor that already was under contract with the agency, has provided computer programmers for the effort, and the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care has provided additional workers at the call center it operates for DHS.

The plan is expected to cost the state $8.4 million, of which the state will pay $2.1 million and the federal government will pay the rest.

Gillespie told reporters Wednesday, “I gave (the vendors) an impossible task when I said, ‘Clear it by the end of the year,’ but they are killing themselves to do it. I admire the work that they’re doing.”