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An open letter to Gov.-elect Laura Kelly on disability issues

The Wichita Eagle

Dear Gov. Kelly:

Eight years ago, as he began his disastrous governorship, I naively wrote Sam Brownback on disability issues.

What those issues were I can’t recall, but I set the tone by congratulating him on his victory and wishing him well. Even knowing how his administration ended, I would still do the same. Our system, as you know, cannot work if we view the other as inherently evil.

I urged Gov. Brownback to begin a dialogue with the disability community. But he never talked with us or even to us. He talked at us and from a very august height.

This may have hurt our feelings, but that’s life. Patronizing us hurt his Medicaid “reform,” KanCare. Before it took effect on Jan. 1, 2013, input on KanCare was supposed to be given by consumers, service providers and family members at a series of public meetings.

In August 2012, I attended one such affair. There, administration officials were less interested in getting our ideas than they were in trying to convince us our ideas weren’t needed because it was conceived almost flawlessly.

Abolishing KanCare, which hasn’t come close to fulfilling Brownback’s promises, isn’t likely given conservative control the House, but you can make it more responsive.

First, establish an executive advisory board composed of government and insurance experts, service providers and consumers. For reasons I’ll get to shortly, find one or two younger adults with disabilities — bright, not yet cynical minds with a passion for social justice. They’ll bring idealism to the table. They’ll learn how to get a lot of what you want from government — you never get everything you want — through bargaining and compromise, skills they can use all their lives.

Second, expand Medicaid. Yes, more people need covered, something Brownback said would hurt the disabled. But he never asked us if we opposed giving the working poor health coverage. Social justice is not a zero sum game. Women, the elderly, the poor, minorities and the disabled are in the same boat and shouldn’t be at each other’s throats.

Third, don’t just expand who is covered; expand what is covered. Currently, waivers only cover medical transportation. Why not cover vocational and recreational transportation too?

Fourth, shorten waiver wait lists. Some wait years and others die waiting. Fix it, please.

Moving beyond KanCare, there needs to be more emphasis on employment, especially as teens leave high school. Some, perhaps most, won’t go to college and there’s no shame in that.

But if teens who are blind, deaf or mobility impaired show signs of college ability, why not encourage some to consider public service?

Progressive media went bonkers over the diversity of the new Congress. But no one in the House is severely disabled. Why not? Help get people with disabilities in office. Be bold.

David P. Rundle is a Wichita freelance journalist