A federal panel that advises the president and Congress on disability issues will travel to Kansas next week for discussions focused on the state’s KanCare managed-care program and on disability services for people in rural areas.
The National Council on Disability is scheduled to spend two days in Topeka to hear from a range of stakeholders including people with disabilities, service providers and state officials.
Lawrence Carter-Long, a spokesman for the Disability Council, said its members meet four times a year and try to have two of those meetings outside of Washington to “take the pulse of what’s happening across the nation.”
“As goes Kansas, goes the rest of the nation,” he said.
Information gathered at the meeting will help shape the council’s annual report and recommendations for national laws and policies to address problems faced by the disabled, said Gary Blumenthal, a former Kansas lawmaker appointed by President Obama to serve on the 15-member panel.
“We’re interested in hearing directly from members of the disability community, with respect to how they see issues are being addressed in Kansas,” Blumenthal said. “I think our particular interests are in regard to managed care, employment issues and just the overall ability to access services in a rural setting.”
Blumenthal, a Democrat, served in the Kansas Legislature as a representative from Marion from 1982 to 1993. He also worked several years as the Wichita regional director for the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, now called the Department of Families and Children.
He served in President Clinton’s administration as executive director of an advisory board on the mentally disabled and now lives in Sudbury, Mass., where he heads an association for developmental disability care providers.
“I’m looking forward to being back in the (Kansas) Statehouse. I feel like I’m in an episode of ‘Back to the Future,’ ” he said, “I’ve been gone for a number of years. I understand the political climate may have changed a little bit.”
The two-day meeting will be held in the Old Supreme Court Room at the Capitol. It will include several panel discussions with experts, advocates and officials, along with opportunities for members of the public to make comments.
On Wednesday, panelists will address the topics: Living with a Disability in Rural Areas, Kansas Legislation for Parents with Disabilities, and Kansas Employment First.
Thursday’s meeting will feature a panel discussion on the implementation of KanCare’s managed-care system for home- and community-based services for the developmentally disabled.
Under KanCare, the state contracts with private managed-care insurance companies to administer health services for the poor and disabled. It pays a flat rate per client in an effort to contain state costs. KanCare will take over home- and community-based services for people with developmental disabilities on Jan. 1.
The panel will include Kansas Aging and Disability Services Secretary Shawn Sullivan, whose department is implementing the change, and Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, a leader of efforts to try to keep disability services out of KanCare.
Sullivan said he will discuss “why we are moving it into KanCare and what we hope to accomplish with that.” He said his department is “working furiously” with the state’s care providers to try to make the switch as smooth as possible.
Ward said one issue he plans to raise is billing denials and delays on the medical side of KanCare, which have prompted complaints from some major hospital systems since KanCare replaced traditional Medicaid for medical services on Jan. 1 of this year.
“If Wesley and Via Christi (hospitals) are having a hard time getting paid, and they’ve got lawyers and accountants and insurance people, what about the small providers who provide a lot of the (disability) services that have half a dozen or a dozen clients?” Ward said. “If they don’t get paid, they don’t have the wherewithal to fight nor do they have the bank account to continue to do business while they wait for the resolution.”