Topeka Advocates for Kansans with disabilities called Thursday for increased mental health insurance coverage, stronger protections for the rights of the disabled and $40.7 million in additional funding to provide home-based care for those on waiting lists for services.
Shannon Jones, spokeswoman for the Big Tent Coalition, which represents 71 groups statewide, outlined the proposals for the coming legislative session in an "open letter" to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
Nicole Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Sebelius, said the governor would consider the coalition's proposals as she prepared a budget for the session that starts Jan. 10.
"She will be reviewing all the budget requests very soon," Corcoran said.
The Big Tent Coalition was formed three years ago during tough economic times to protect state funding and programs for low-income Kansans with disabilities. Members have staged several rallies and overnight campouts on the Capitol grounds.
On Thursday, the coalition requested $17.1 million to provide home-based care for more than 1,600 physically and developmentally disabled Kansans on waiting lists for those services. About 13,600 Kansans receive those services now.
"The Big Tent Coalition is urging the governor and the Legislature to solve this waiting-list problem," Jones said.
In addition, the group requested $23.6 million to restore previous shortfalls in programs and increase other services. Jones said the coalition didn't suggest how policymakers might raise the additional dollars needed to cover the group's recommendations, but said increased funding in previous years resulted from "a matter of prioritizing."
The coalition also said it would push for legislation to eliminate differences in the way insurance covers physical and mental illnesses.
While physical illnesses may receive near total coverage, mental illness requirements are limited to 45 days of in-patient care and 45 days of outpatient care.
Stan Friedman, with the Kansas National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said making mental illness coverage the same as physical illness coverage would increase the cost of insurance by about 1 percent.
But he said the proposed parity law would produce long-term savings by ensuring people with mental illness receive services they need to keep their jobs and avoid more costly emergency treatment.
Bob Mikesic, advocacy and American with Disabilities Act coordinator for Independence Inc. in Lawrence, said he supported the Big Tent proposals for parity in mental health coverage.
"It really is a benefit to employers to keep their employees effective," he said.
Coalition members also said they would push for changes in state law that currently result in discrimination against parents who have disabilities.
Chris Owens, a blind women and mother from Hutchinson, said many times children were taken from parents with disabilities, especially in child custody disputes, because social workers and judges thought people with disabilities could not properly care for the children.
"This discrimination is across the board," Owens said. "Parents with disabilities should have the same rights to raise their children as other parents."
The coalition also called for continued growth in the number of people receiving home-based services instead of nursing home care. And Rocky Nichols, executive director of Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services, said the coalition would push for allocating $750,000 from court docket fees to help Kansans with disabilities receive legal and advocacy representation.