The state said Tuesday that it will delay a major overhaul in the way it provides services for the disabled.
The announcement comes after people with disabilities, their family members, providers and care takers voiced major concerns with the state’s nine-month time line to switch a complex system of care for some of Kansas’ most vulnerable populations.
“This is probably the single biggest change this system has seen” in nearly 20 years, said Dee Staudt, director of the Sedgwick County Developmental Disability Organization. In 1995 the state passed a law, guaranteeing certain rights for people with developmental disabilities.
The state’s overhaul of disability services would affect thousands of people who are developmentally or intellectually disabled, are elderly and frail, have a traumatic brain injury, are physically disabled, have a serious emotional disturbance or who need long-term medical care.
Right now, those people receive what’s called a Medicaid waiver. Medicaid is the state and federal health care program for people with low income or who are disabled. The waiver provides additional services usually not allowed by Medicaid.
The services provided by the waiver help people stay in their homes rather than be institutionalized.
The state currently offers seven waivers based on disability type. Two state agencies in charge of the waivers, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, wanted to condense all seven waivers into one universal waiver by Jan. 1 and switch everyone over to the new universal waiver by July 1.
The events unfolded fast; the state announced the plan in August.
After complaints and a near state of panic by both care providers and guardians of those who use the services, the state announced Tuesday that it would hold off on the switch for six months – until Jan. 1, 2017.
The concern, in part, stemmed from the state’s promise to expand services and reduce the wait list without spending any more money.
Some questioned how that was possible and whether the additional services really would be available.
A news release from the aging and disabilities department cited consumer, provider and stakeholder feedback as reason for the delay.
“We want to ensure that we have the details of how waiver integration will work firmly in place before we move ahead,” Susan Mosier, secretary of KDHE, said in the news release. “We want our consumers to be confident that their concerns have been addressed.”
A stakeholder work group of 75 people from around the state met for the first time Sept. 30 in Topeka and divided into five focus groups.
“Trying to come up with a unified policy was very daunting,” said Jeannette Livingston, assistant director of the Sedgwick County Developmental Disability Organization, who also co-chairs one of the focus groups.
Staudt and Livingston said the state wanted proposals from the five focus groups by the end of October.
Staudt said some waivers had many policies to guide services while others had very few; some had laws on the books that didn’t apply to other waivers; and many of the waivers had policies unique to that disability type.
“There’s a lot to get your arms around to even know how to start,” Staudt said.
And that’s the bureaucratic level of planning. There would also be changes for providers, qualifications, licensing, education and training.
“I think that dawned on me when I started doing my homework for my group, like ‘Wow, this is huge,’” Livingston said. “It’s a lot.”
This is the second time the state has delayed its plans to change the way it delivers services to the disabled.
In 2013, the state switched its Medicaid services to KanCare, which uses three private health care companies to administer the program. That switch occurred within a year. At the time, the federal government advised the state not to include services for disabled people in that switch because of the time crunch.