Governor's plan would take 600 off waiting lists for social services

Budgment amendment calls for $18.5 million in additional spending for PD and DD services

0 | Budget, Legislature

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Gov. Sam Brownback

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— Gov. Sam Brownback today released details of his plan to reduce the waiting lists for home- and community-based Medicaid services.

The $18.5 million in additional spending would move "approximately" 400 physically disabled and 200 developmentally disabled Kansans into services, if approved by the Legislature, according to administration officials who said it would be "difficult to project exactly how many on the waiting lists will be removed."

The governor earlier this month announced he would try to trim the lists earlier but did not disclose then how much money he would ask for from the Legislature to fund the plan. Those details were released today by the Governor's Office as part of Brownback's formal amendment to the spending plan he first presented to the Legislature in January.

The governor announced the move the same day that state projections for the cost of Medicaid caseloads were revised downward by $97.6 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The governor characterized the anticipated reduced costs as a "dividend" from his new KanCare program. The $97.6 million would mostly be savings for the federal government, but it also would spare the state general fund $37.6 million. The governor's budget amendment would rely on $8 million from the general fund to reduce the waiting lists.

Advocates for the disabled said they were pleased with the sum proposed.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Mike Oxford, executive director at the Topeka Independent Living and Resource Center, a group that advocates for the physically disabled. “I mean, wow, this is the most money that I can ever remember being put toward the waiting lists for any set amount of time. It’s been many, many years at least.”

Oxford said he hoped legislators would adopt the governor’s proposal.

“All of this assumes that KanCare really is saving money and that there isn’t some kind of robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul kind of thing going on,” Oxford said. “I not intimating that there is, I’m just saying that everybody’s radar is on because KanCare has put us all in a brand new situation. We’ve not been here before.”

KanCare is the governor's initiative to remake the state Medicaid program by moving virtually all the state's 380,000 Medicaid beneficiaries into managed care plans run by three for-profit insurance companies: Amerigroup, UnitedHealthcare and Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene. The administration said the goals of the program are to reduce costs while improving the health of Medicaid enrollees and without cutting the rates paid to Medicaid service providers. Administration officials have forecast savings of more than $1 billion over five years.

State budget analysts said the KanCare program had reduced anticipated costs but also attributed the drop in anticipated costs to fewer people using social service programs because of policy changes other than KanCare and also because unemployment was down. Typically, more people seek Medicaid assistance when the economy is down.

When the federal government approved the KanCare initiative one of the "conditions" was that some portion of any savings be applied to reducing the waiting lists for services.

More than 5,500 people currently are on those wait lists with about another 1,200 people with developmental disabilities receiving some services but seeking more. Some people have been on the lists for years.

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Rocky Nichols, executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, a Topeka-based nonprofit group.

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“We absolutely and enthusiastically applaud the governor for doing this,” said Rocky Nichols, executive director with the Disability Rights Center of Kansas. “We’ve been reminding people all (legislative) session that the special terms and conditions that allowed KanCare to go forward said that any savings would have to be put toward the waiting lists. It appears the governor’s office has endorsed the concept, which we think is fabulous.”

The governor's budget amendment also included a request for $1.1 million to fund the start up of the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center during fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1, and another $754,500 for the center in fiscal 2015. The Legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring KU to open the center but did not include funding for it.

The full Legislature is scheduled to return to Topeka on May 8 to conclude its budget plan.



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