An estimated 12,000 South Carolinians who submitted Medicaid applications between Oct. 1 and late December on HealthCare.gov are still waiting - and must continue to wait - to find out if they qualify for the government's low-income health insurance program.

But if those applicants are determined eligible, health care services administered since Jan. 1 will be covered retroactively, a spokeswoman for the S.C. Medicaid agency confirmed Tuesday.

Medicaid eligibility determinations normally take several weeks. But this months-long delay is the fault of the electronic transfer process between the federal government's health insurance marketplace and the state Medicaid agency.

The federal system wasn't prepared to transfer applicant information from HealthCare.gov to the state when the insurance marketplace launched on Oct. 1. Now, S.C. Medicaid Deputy Director John Supra said the state is still testing this new technology to make sure it works.

"We've got limited resources and lots of new things. We're always balancing what do we do when," Supra said.

While he said applicant data from the federal government is improving each week, it will still take more time to perfect the system.

"Everyone's got to be working and testing it," he said. "They've got to absolutely fix some things and we've got to test it. We've got to work together to make sure it works."

This data transfer problem isn't unique to South Carolina.

Supra said most other states that opted into the federal insurance marketplace instead of creating state-based marketplaces are "working to find ways to overcome the technical challenges of the account transfer process."

Most South Carolinians who have applied for Medicaid since Oct. 1 have not used HealthCare.gov to submit an application. Applications can also be submitted online through the state Medicaid agency's website, in person or by phone.

Supra said South Carolina processes an average 1,000 Medicaid applications every day. The number of applications held up by the transfer glitch between HealthCare.gov and the state represents only a small percentage of the total applications that the agency has received since October, he said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.