A spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration said Thursday that the state will resurrect a plan to combine Medicaid support services for Kansans with various disabilities “as soon as is possible from a practical standpoint.”
Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, was responding to a KHI News Service story published Wednesday.
That story was based on an email from an official with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment announcing that work on the Medicaid changes, called “waiver integration,” has been suspended until a “future date.”
De Rocha said that future date will be sooner rather than later.
The waivers provide Medicaid coverage for home and community-based support services that allow Kansans with disabilities to remain at home rather than in institutions. The services are currently split into seven groups based on type of disability: developmental, physical, frail elderly, autism, traumatic brain injury, technology assisted and serious emotional disturbance.
The Brownback administration’s plan would compress the services into two groups: one for children and one for adults.
The KDHE email, de Rocha said, was meant only to tell employees who had been working at a “hectic pace” on the project that they could take a breather.
“It was certainly not written to indicate that the work on waiver integration was coming to a halt,” she said. “It was meant to tell them to stand down briefly until we could regroup and reschedule.”
The email referenced a “legislative directive” as the reason for the work stoppage.
Early Monday morning the Legislature passed a budget that included a proviso stating that no money is to be spent to integrate the waivers any sooner than July 2018.
De Rocha said it was too early to say whether Brownback will veto that provision. But she said even if he does not, the administration believes it has the authority to use normal staff hours to continue readying the integration plan. There would be no travel budget to do outreach in other areas of the state and no money for outside consultants, but the base work would continue.
“Regardless of that (veto) process, we’re not stopping work on waiver integration,” de Rocha said.
De Rocha said workgroups formed to take input from Kansans with disabilities and their service providers would restart soon with the goal to form more effective Medicaid waiver services.
She and other administration officials say that would allow all Kansans with disabilities to receive a broader array of services more efficiently, rather than being constrained by labels.
“Right now if you’re on the PD (physical disability) waiver and you need a service that’s on the DD (developmental disability) waiver you can’t get it,” de Rocha said. “What we’re doing is enlarging the kinds of services that are available to people that are on Medicaid waivers.”
“Regardless of that (veto) process, we’re not stopping work on waiver integration.”- Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services
Disability advocates say the plan is short on details and worry it could lead to service reductions.
The administration originally intended to implement the plan July 1 of this year but delayed that target by six months amid concerns the process was moving too quickly.
Those concerns remain and the implementation timeline is now hard to pin down.
Legislators on a subcommittee formed to study integration said in March they believed the administration would agree to their recommendation to further delay the rollout a year to Jan. 1, 2018.
Weeks later, leaders of KDHE and KDADS said they were still preparing for a Jan. 1, 2017, rollout.
Talks between Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, resulted in Colyer issuing a letter assuring legislators the administration would not move forward until after the 2017 session.
But Rep. Jerry Henry, the top Democrat on the House budget committee, then successfully pushed for the budget proviso pushing the implementation date into 2018.
De Rocha did not provide a target date, saying instead that it would be based on the progress of preparations.
“What we’re going to continue to work on is getting this into the best shape and form we can so it’s done right,” she said. “We won’t go forward with this until it’s right.”