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Brownback moves to cut waiting list for disabled

9/12/2013

By JOHN HANNA

By JOHN HANNA

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- Kansas will move more quickly than it had planned to provide hundreds of disabled residents with in-home services that help them live as independently as possible, Gov. Sam Brownback announced Wednesday.

Brownback said his administration immediately is releasing $37 million that was set aside by legislators to address the waiting lists for services such as help with chores and personal assistants. The money, to be spent during the next two years, will come from savings from an overhaul of the state's Medicaid program, which covers health care for the needy and disabled.

The state was paying for in-home services for approximately 8,400 developmentally disabled residents and 5,700 physically disabled residents as of mid-August. Nearly 3,000 developmentally disabled and approximately 2,000 physically disabled Kansas residents were on waiting lists. Officials now expect 250 developmentally disabled and 400 physically disabled people to be removed from the waiting lists, shrinking the lists by 13 percent.

The governor's announcement highlighted a behind-the-scenes discussion among administration officials and advocates for the disabled about whether the state had to wait until January to release the funds under the budget approved by lawmakers. The legislation said the money couldn't be spent if services for the developmentally disabled weren't included in the Medicaid overhaul. That won't formally occur until January, though the policy already is set.

Brownback said Kansas officials now are confident enough federal officials will sign off on the change to move forward with reducing the waiting lists. Federal officials must consent because Medicaid is jointly funded by states and the federal government.

"We're beginning this early," Brownback said. "It's my effort and desire that we get those waiting lists pulled down as rapidly as we can."

Kansas turned over the administration of most of its $3 billion-a-year Medicaid program to three private health insurance companies in January, contending it would provide better-coordinated health care at lower costs.

Advocates for the developmentally disabled resisted -- skeptical of how they'd be treated by for-profit companies -- and the state excluded them from the overhaul until next year. The overhauled Medicaid program, renamed KanCare, covers approximately 342,000 Kansas residents.

Brownback proposed in May the state shift its expected "KanCare dividend" to the waiting lists for in-home services for the disabled, but legislators made it contingent on ending the "carve out" for the developmentally disabled.

Last month, officials with InterHab, which represents groups providing services to the developmentally disabled, sent Brownback a letter, pressing him to have the funds released immediately. The letter said "state agency officials" were saying the money wouldn't be released until early next year.

"We're just glad they took another look at it," said Tom Laing, InterHab's executive director.

And Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, said: "Sooner is obviously better than later, and so we're glad they're releasing the dollars sooner."