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Bill has disability advocates worried

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

Advocates for developmentally disabled Kansans flocked to the Statehouse this week, concerned by proposed amendments that would strip Community Developmental Disability Organizations of some authority.

If passed, Senate Bill 194 would make it illegal for the same organization to provide services if it also conducts needs assessments or eligibility determinations. It also would prohibit CDDO employees from providing case management services if their organization offers supportive services.

"The bill is very controversial, and it's very personal to the people that it affects," said Kansas Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia. "We've had a lot of conversations from people all over the state on this bill. The case managers are very important and personal to these residents."

Bowers said she expects the bill, which the Senate substituted for a House bill regarding cosmetology licensing, to stall this session.

"I don't know if there's support to change that right now," she said.

The issues raised particularly are concerning for residents of rural Kansas, where there might not be other service or assessment options readily available.

The community-based system was established by the state in 1995 to offer those with disabilities a better quality of life. At that time, it was understood some facilities would need to fulfill multiple roles, said Jerry Michaud, president of Hays-based Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas.

"As far as the part of the case management and if we start pulling things out and creating unnecessary obstacles ... I think the end result is the people with developmental disabilities and their families would be the losers in all of this," he said. "Which is why I believe there's fervor in their concern."

The debate was spurred by concern about possible conflicts of interests. Bowers said some were concerned a CDDO possibly could diagnose and provide services without giving other qualified providers the opportunity. That does not seem to be an issue in western Kansas, she said.

"I do see this as urban/rural (issue) even. They might be addressing a problem in eastern Kansas," Bowers said. "Our (CDDOs) might be, in some cases, the only ones to provide the service, so we don't have that conflict."

Michaud said concern is addressed by a peer-review process established by the state in 2007. Reviews compiled by the state since 2009 indicate the system is scoring more than 90 percent on its peer-review outcome measures.

"It's not broken," Michaud said of the current system.

Some are concerned the proposal might have political motives. Many developmental disability service providers have opposed the state's new Medicaid program, KanCare, and have asked to be excluded. The program went live Jan. 1, and DD services are set to join it Jan. 1 unless the Legislature approves the exclusion.

"I think the ulterior motive has to do with KanCare and controlling what we do with Medicaid in Kansas," said Bart Betzen, who was among the advocates lobbying in Topeka this week.

Betzen's brother has been receiving home-based services in Hill City since 1988. Before that, he was housed in three different state institutions, he said.

"Since he's been in the community, it's like he's living with family, and I can't say enough good things about the people who work at DSNWK. They treat him like a family member," Betzen said. "That's really why I got involved in this process."

For now, Betzen said he and others are "cautiously hopeful" their advocacy efforts might have tipped the scales.

"I was pessimistic going in, thinking we wouldn't make any difference in what we were saying because the Legislature knew what they were going to do," he said. "It was really a good feeling to see our grassroots approach and just telling people we were concerned make a difference."