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Hundreds Rally At Kansas Statehouse Over Disability Changes

Tucker.jpg
Andy Marso
/
Heartland Health Monitor
Stacy Tucker, center in pink, walked three days from her home in Lawrence to attend the rally. Her shirt bears the message: 'I walked for special needs people speaking out.'

Hundreds of Kansans with developmental disabilities rallied Wednesday outside the Capitol, as legislators said they are close to reaching a deal with Gov. Sam Brownback to postpone changes to disability services.

Rep. Les Osterman, a Republican from Wichita, told the crowd that a legislative proposal to delay the administration’s Medicaid waiver integration plan until 2018 was a done deal.

“I stopped the waiver integration,” Osterman said. “At least until 2018.”

The waivers provide Medicaid coverage for support services that allow Kansans with disabilities to remain in home and community-based settings rather than institutions.

The services are split into seven groups based on type of disability: developmental, physical, frail elderly, autism, traumatic brain injury, technology assisted and serious emotional disturbance. The Brownback administration’s plan would compress the services into two groups: one for children and one for adults.

Administration officials say that would allow all Kansans to receive a broader array of services more efficiently, rather than being constrained by labels.

Osterman said he worked across the aisle with Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita.

The two serve on a subcommittee that made the recommendation to delay. The other members were Rep. Willie Dove, a Republican from Bonner Springs, and Rep. Jim Kelly, a Republican from Independence.

Earlier in the week, Ward and Kelly said they believed a deal to delay the integration was imminent.

“That’s what I heard,” Kelly said. “I haven’t seen anything. But that could be on its way, which could be great.”

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said confirmation of the delay would have to come from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The waiver integration plan, which has been delayed once, is a major issue for all disability groups in Kansas.

Legislators and disability advocates say the administration’s plan is short on details and worry it could lead to service reductions.

“I hope they delay it as long as they can,” said Hal Schultz, a Lawrence resident who leads a self-advocacy group for Kansans with developmental and intellectual disabilities. “I don’t like it.”

Schultz spoke at the rally, which was hosted by Interhab, a Topeka-based nonprofit that represents developmental disability service providers.

Tim Wood, who will take the top job at Interhab in September, urged those in attendance to lobby their legislators to fully fund waiting lists for the waiver services and provide higher Medicaid reimbursements for direct care workers, in addition to delaying the waiver integration.

Rally-goers wore green shirts that read “My vote counts” and were asked to visit legislators who might not know people with developmental disabilities or understand their concerns.  

Stacy Tucker came with her own shirt that said: “I walked for special needs people speaking out.”

Tucker said she walked three days from her home in Lawrence to the rally, inspired by civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

“I want people to know we are people and we’re just like anybody else,” Tucker said.

Tom Laing, Interhab’s current leader, told those who attended the rally that legislators calling for a delay to the waiver integration was an indication of the group’s political clout.

“This is a case where the Legislature heard what you had to say,” Laing said.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso

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