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Archive for Sunday, June 3, 1990

AID RECIPIENTS WARY DESPITE COURT REPRIEVE

June 3, 1990

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Because of a Wichita judge's restraining order, Karen Byers will continue to have a portion of her medical bills paid by the state of Kansas at least for the time being.

But the constant fear of losing state medical benefits has kept the 43-year-old Lawrence woman with a chronic asthma condition in a state of apprehension.

Byers said that if new restrictions on the MediKan benefits she uses to help pay hospital and doctor visits eventually go into effect, she has no idea how she will survive financially.

"I was in the emergency room a week ago for an asthma attack," she said last week. "And I've been seeing the doctor once a week or once every two weeks for the last year."

Byers, like many other Kansans on General Assistance and MediKan, received a letter from the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services last month telling her about new restrictions on the programs.

FOR BYERS, those would have limited the number of doctor's visits the state would help pay for to three a year, down from the current 12. There also would have been no payment for the emergency hospital visits she has had to make frequently, according to the letter and SRS officials.

A preliminary injunction issued Wednesday by Judge Kay Royse prohibited the state from putting the cuts into effect.

Royse said Friday that a hearing to determine whether the case in Wichita will be turned into a class-action lawsuit is still to be scheduled. She would not discuss the case, saying it would be improper to do so while legal action is pending.

But David Gray, a private attorney in Wichita who represents some of the SRS clients in the lawsuit, said situations such as those facing Byers are similar to those involved in the case before Royse. And he said Byers would become part of the suit if it is certified as a class-action petition.

"WE PUT ON a lot of evidence showing the irreparable injury having to do with medical and psychological disorders," he said.

Gray said attorneys showed the cuts would "cause disastrous results for individuals, up to and including death."

The cutbacks in MediKan and General Assistance were an attempt by SRS to deal with a $37 million shortfall expected in fiscal year 1991, which starts July 1. The cuts would have saved $19.5 million.

After the judge's injunction was ordered, Gov. Mike Hayden asked acting SRS Secretary Dennis Taylor to study the state's options and report back within 10 days.

Byers is applying for Supplemental Social Security benefits because of her medical conditions. She has been told it will take up to four months for a decision to be made on whether she qualifies. She takes 13 different medicines daily to control her asthma condition.

SHE SAID her doctor has scheduled her to start on a 14th medication this week.

The letter sent to Byers from the state indicated these medications would still be paid for under the new, restricted program.

Without the restraining order, others in the area on MediKan and General Assistance would have been cut off the programs completely last Friday.

Janet Schalansky, Topeka-area SRS director, said the new MediKan and General Assistance rules would have reduced or stopped benefits to 144 people in Shawnee and Douglas counties.

Ernie Dyer, income maintenance supervisor with the SRS in Lawrence, said about 100 of the people affected are in Douglas County, including 30 to 35 people who were to be completely cut off.

SCHALANSKY said a new letter informing MediKan and General Assistance clients of the change brought about by the injunction was to go out soon.

Besides stopping the restriction on the number of doctor visits allowed for MediKan clients, other cuts stopped by the injunction include the elimination of General Assistance payments to those between 55 and 65 years of age unless they are disabled; the elimination of general assistance benefits to those who are disabled unless the disability is anticipated to last six months or longer; and a $9 a month cut in General Assistance payments for each recipient.

Patty Doria, benefits adviser for Independence Inc. who has worked with Byers, said she has dealt with a number of clients who would have been affected by the MediKan cuts, including people with diabetes and back problems.

But she said Byers' situation is the most critical.

"SHE NEEDS to see the doctor once a week," Doria said. "It's scary. It's frightening."

Byers said Rep. Jessie Branson, D-Lawrence, urged her to continue going to the doctor or to the hospital if the need arose, even if the cuts go into effect.

Mrs. Branson said she has been getting a number of calls from people in similar situations.

"There's a lot of apprehension out there," she said. "There certainly are a lot of people out there who have very serious disorders. And they will certainly become more ill" if benefits are cut off.

Byers said she doesn't expect something for nothing. But she said she cannot hold a job with her asthma condition. She said she worked for 17 years in the printing industry.

And recently, she said, she tried to get computer training through Independence Inc., but because of her numerous allergies, could not even sit in the classroom without having an asthma attack.

"The fact is, they are putting people like myself in a life and death situation," she said. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone."

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