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Protesters rally at Capitol over proposal to put developmental disability services under KanCare

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at 9:06 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, May 10, 2013, at 7:06 a.m.

— Hundreds of Kansans with developmental disabilities and their supporters rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday in an effort to pressure the Legislature to leave long-term disability services out of the KanCare managed-care health program.

People came from group homes and care programs across the state to protest KanCare, Gov. Sam Brownback’s effort to save money on Medicaid costs by contracting with private insurance companies that provide services for a set fee per client.

Many disabled people and their caregivers are concerned that private insurers would compromise their long-term care to save money and earn larger profits.

“The battle you’re fighting is on the side of the angels. We are on the right side of this issue,” Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, told a crowd on the south steps of the Capitol, where demonstrators erected and signed a 64-foot-long, four-foot-tall petition addressed to the governor.

While many demonstrated on the south lawn, others were inside the building addressing their concerns directly to whatever lawmakers they could find.

“I’m up here to talk to people about what’s going on and let them know there’s still work to do,” said David Pracht, 44, of Wichita, a resident of The Timbers, an apartment complex where people with disabilities live with assistance.

“For me, it’s my medical supplies and stuff they want to cut,” Pracht said. “I’m also worried about the attendant-care side of it.”

Angela de Rocha of the Department of Aging and Disability Services said keeping long-term services out of KanCare would cost the state savings that could be used to reduce the waiting lists for disability services.

About 2,900 developmentally disabled and 2,600 physically disabled residents are on waiting lists for services.

As part of its agreement with the federal government to implement KanCare, the state is committed to using some of the savings from the program to reduce the waiting lists.

KanCare is projected to save $129.5 million overall, including $67.8 million of state funds, between now and the end of 2015, said Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag.

The governor has earmarked $37.1 million of the savings for waiting-list reduction.

Adding long-term services for the developmentally disabled to KanCare, as scheduled on Jan. 1 of next year, is expected to generate additional savings in state funds of $9.1 million in 2014 and $16.8 million in 2015, DeRocha said.

Those protesting the change argue that the insurance companies that run KanCare won’t know how to handle the long-term services that vary widely from person to person.

“They’re two different worlds,” said Ray Rollins of Overland Park, who has a 30-year-old disabled daughter and traveled from Overland Park for Wednesday’s demonstration.

He said he’s not worried about the insurance companies handling his daughter’s medical care because “that’s what they do.”

But with her long-term services, “the insurance companies have no experience and no idea,” he said. “It includes things the insurance companies don’t know, like job training, job searching, social skills, living skills, transportation, safety, security and nutrition.”

Jones-Sontag countered that KanCare is already administering similar services for 12,000 Kansans with disabilities, including the physically disabled, frail and elderly and others.

Supporters of the developmentally disabled argue that’s not comparable because most of the people already served through KanCare have the mental acuity to advocate for themselves when dealing with an insurance company, which the developmentally disabled lack.

Carolyn Walters said she attended the rally for Travis Conley, a 31-year-old man with mental disabilities who receives services through Wichita-based Starkey Inc. Walters met Conley when he was a student in her class at Levy Special Education Center and became his legal guardian 14 years ago.

She said she was concerned about a bill to nudge disabled people toward KanCare by requiring that cases be managed by a different company than the one that provides their long-term care services, such as housing, transportation, sheltered-workshop employment, job training and in-home assistance.

Walters said Conley has developed a high level of trust and confidence with his case manager, which can’t be replaced by someone he’s never met.

“That relationship with his case manager at Starkey is important to him,” Walters said. “I’d really hate to see that relationship severed.”

Jones-Sontag said the administration is committed to allowing developmentally disabled people to keep their case managers and service providers under KanCare.

The bill, Senate Substitute for House Bill 2155, was scheduled for a floor vote before the Legislature’s three-week break, but it was pulled off the calendar.

The disabled people and their supporters don’t know whether they’ll get a vote on keeping their long-term services out of KanCare.

“I think they (legislators) all want to do the right thing, but I think they might be a little bit confused by all the promises that have been put out for KanCare,” said Ron Pasmore, chief executive officer of the Wichita-based service and training provider KETCH Inc.

He said lawmakers are concerned because the social-service budget has grown substantially in recent years, and that he has to remind them that the developmental disabilities services budget is a small segment of the overall Medicaid program.

“Putting everything together and saying it’s all growing confuses the issue for us,” he said.

Reach Dion Lefler at 785-296-3006 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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