Opinion Columns & Blogs

Kansas safety net for disabled is fraying, not strong


I appreciate the effort by Tim Keck, acting secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, to put a positive spin on the state’s attempt to improve the lives of Kansans with disabilities, but his recent commentary was inaccurate (“Safety net for disabled strong and improving,” Oct. 24 Opinion).

The safety net for Kansans with disabilities is not strong. It is actually deteriorating to the point where drastic action will be required if changes are not made.

▪  Home and community-based service reimbursement rates have not increased for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) for more than eight years. The impact of this neglect has led to providers being unable to attract and retain qualified staff. It also has forced agencies to go out of business and limited the number of options available to people with disabilities. This has left individuals and families scrambling to find providers within their communities and put people at risk of institutionalization.

▪  To claim that KanCare is a “vast improvement” over the previous Medicaid program is completely false. The original intent of Kancare was to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities, improve efficiencies and health outcomes, break down silos between systems, and improve behavioral health, to name a few. Yet none of these have come to fruition, and it can be argued that we have headed in the opposite direction.

Inefficiencies, poor communication, inconsistencies, silos, over-regulation and lack of funding have occurred. Problems have become commonplace to the point that the Legislature and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have had to intervene to prevent more damage.

The previous Medicaid program needed an oil change, not a complete overhaul with the engine put in backwards and upside down so that it doesn’t start.

▪  Since the implementation of KanCare, there has been no empirical data to suggest that health outcomes have actually improved. The only area of improvement was that emergency room visits have decreased. When Health Homes were available for 18 months, we did see progress being made in health outcomes. But then state decided not to fund it further.

▪  It is true that KanCare did not create the waiting list for services, but it has done very little with the “$1 billion in savings” to alleviate the I/DD waiting list, and it continues to grow under the current administration. Any savings from KanCare is lining the pockets of three out-of-state, for-profit managed-care companies.

This is only a small list of problems with Kancare. To say that “the safety net is improving” is disingenuous and completely false.

The lack of oversight from the state has created a monster that continues to devour services and providers.

Until changes are made to an overextended system, we will continue to see people with disabilities harmed.

Tim Cunningham is executive director of Tri-Valley Developmental Services in Chanute.