Advocates Present United Front Against KanCare

If there’s one thing that has stood out to me in the makeover of the Kansas Medicaid program, it is the doggedness of advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

My observation comes from more than two decades of covering battles like this in communities big and small. The issues have been many, from zoning disputes to school district battles.

Opposition tends to crest at a heated public hearing or two, and then, people frequently retreat to their busy lives.

One exception came early in my journalism career, when residents — and my editor — seemed to never tire of interminable hearings about a mining proposal on the outskirts of State College, Pa. I can’t remember how long that lasted.

But the intellectual and developmental disabilities community is now more than a year into its campaign against the Medicaid overhaul, dubbed KanCare by the Brownback administration.

In talking with Lurena Mead, of Johnson County Developmental Supports, this is clearly a personal movement driven by parents who want the best for their children.

The administration has also demonstrated an openness not often seen among government bureaucracies.

It has had several sets of meetings around the state to explain the program and listen to concerns. Administration officials have also made themselves available to answer questions, even as they question whether critics are spreading misinformation.

Crowd at town hall meetingThe latest appearance came Monday in Olathe, when the secretary of the Department of Aging and Disability Services joined lawmakers at a town hall meeting attended by a capacity crowd of more than 200 people (pictured at left).

Interested parties have generally given KanCare mixed reviews, as evidenced by comments from children’s advocates. Even so, most lawmakers and many stakeholders are willing to believe that managed care done right can result in better outcomes and a more efficient Medicaid program.

KanCare moved virtually all the state’s 380,000 Medicaid beneficiaries into health plans run by three for-profit insurance companies: Amerigroup, UnitedHealthcare and Sunflower State Health Plan, a subsidiary of Centene. It started Jan. 1.

Parents of kids with intellectual and developmental disabilities contend it’s inappropriate to include so-called long-term supports in the managed care environment. These services might include having someone help a client with a job, grocery shopping, or getting ready in the morning.

The Brownback administration agreed to postpone inclusion of those services for a year.

Advocates for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities want that “carve out” made permanent.

As someone who has covered both schools and mental health, I have marveled at the tenaciousness of parents fighting to get the services they think their children deserve.

These individuals often irritate the powers-that-be, but you know what? The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

A look ahead:

Here are some of items of interest on my radar screen:

  • The Regional Health Care Initiative holds a kickoff meeting for agencies participating in its health information exchange initiative, May 7, 9:30 a.m., REACH Healthcare Foundation offices, 6700 Antioch Road, Merriam, Kan.
  • The Kansas Legislature reconvenes May 8 for a brief wrap-up session. Advocates lobbying to carve support services for the developmentally disabled out of KanCare are planning a big rally on the first day that lawmakers are back.
  • Funding for Kansas Regents universities and the University of Kansas Medical Center is one of the major issues yet to be resolved by Kansas lawmakers. Gov. Sam Brownback waged a public relations campaign against proposed cuts in the Regents budget while lawmakers were on break.

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