Gov. Sam Brownback has agreed to a one-year delay in implementing a plan to bring services for people with developmental disabilities under managed care.
The announcement, via a written statement Wednesday, came hours after about 800 developmentally disabled people and their supporters descended like a red-shirted tide on the Capitol lawn. They called on the Legislature and the governor to at least delay – and preferably kill – plans to bring their community-based long-term services under managed care.
The administration’s statement acknowledged the angst the proposal has created and said slowing the pace of change has the potential to calm those fears.
“We have heard the concerns expressed by family members of developmentally disabled individuals about the coming reforms and the pace of the change in particular,” Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a doctor and Brownback’s point man on health reform, said in the statement. “We believe this staggered implementation will allow for more conversations, more public input, and a more effective implementation for persons utilizing developmental disability waiver services.”
The protesters were motivated by Brownback’s plans to change Medicaid services, replacing state-run programs with a program called KanCare that would be administered under contract by private insurance companies. Brownback is implementing the plan in an effort to cap Medicaid costs.
Advocates say the needs of people with developmental disabilities vary widely and do not lend themselves well to standardized service solutions.
Mardell Byrd traveled from Wichita with her son, Michael Camp, to ask legislators to carve out care for developmentally disabled Kansans from the KanCare program.
“You are going to have to show me that this big corporation is going to take better care of my child than individual people that have known him over the years and understand his needs,” she said.
Michael Camp has participated in KETCH, a service provider for the mentally disabled, for more than 20 years. The program provides Camp with a job as well an apartment. Byrd said she would hate to see any hasty changes to a program that has worked so well for her son.
At Wednesday’s rally, an annual event called “Push Day,” clients and some who provide their services created an impromptu display on the south steps of the Capitol.
Under a logo saying “Don’t gamble with our lives, carve out DD,” they placed personal mementos such as stuffed animals, Special Olympics medals and paintings to dramatize that they are individuals with individual needs.
The Legislature is planning to consider a budget proviso that would delay for one year the implementation of KanCare for long-term care for people with developmental disabilities. That, supporters say, would give some time to evaluate first how the KanCare plan works for other services.
Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, told the group the state should proceed carefully with any changes in programs for the developmentally disabled.
“How we treat those who are unable to take care of themselves I believe defines us as a state,” he said. “It says who we are and what kind of people we are.”
Later, Kelsey said he would prefer to test the KanCare concept for the disabled with a pilot project in one or two counties before taking it statewide.
“We do not want to destroy something that is very good in the hope that we’ll get to something better,” he said. “Let’s test it first, not try to whip it all through at one time and find out it doesn’t work.”
Brownback’s statement encouraged voluntary pilot programs.
“We are confident the new KanCare system will work for the greater good of those who depend upon Medicaid,” Brownback said. “We believe that allowing another year of discussion and input from the developmental disability community will make them comfortable with the program and allow us to craft solutions to the concerns they’re expressing.”
Byrd said she would support a slower and more cautious approach.
“At some point, if we can figure it out, and it’s going to work the correct way and my child is going to be taken care of and all his cares, then let’s see that, but we are kind of pushing it,” she said. “We are not trying it out.”
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita and chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said she doesn’t think a pilot program would be feasible.
“I think you would have a hard time getting contractors to bid on a pilot program,” Landwehr said. “I think that’s what makes it unfeasible.”
After the rally, the demonstrators fanned out through the Capitol in search of legislators to lobby.
Efforts to change the KanCare plan are paying off because of grass-roots advocacy, said Tom Laing, executive director of Interhab, a statewide association representing people with developmental disabilities and their service providers.
“The governor is listening, the lieutenant governor is listening, the Legislature is listening. That’s a good thing,” Laing said.
Contributing: Adam Strunk of The Eagle’s Topeka bureau