Topeka — As legislators on Wednesday started the wrap-up session, the needs of Kansans with physical and developmental disabilities took center stage.
Several hundred people rallied at the Capitol urging legislators to stop Gov. Sam Brownback from putting long-term services for those with developmental disabilities under his proposed Medicaid privatization plan, known as KanCare.
Kathy Lobb, of Lawrence, with the Self-Advocate Coalition of Kansas, said, “We want to let legislators know that they should not gamble with our lives when it comes to our services, how we live, and where we live.”
The Brownback administration has signaled that it would agree to delay for one year putting developmental disabled services under KanCare.
While legislators and advocates said they welcomed the delay, they emphasized they still want the long-term services “carved out” of KanCare.
“We are going to take a delay but we’re not giving up on a carve out,” said Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita.
“We’re not trying to be obstinate,” said Sharon Spratt, chief executive officer of Cottonwood Inc., which delivers services in Lawrence. “We just really value the system we’ve helped to develop over the past 40 years,” she said.
Sens. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, and Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, said the managed care companies that will be taking over Medicaid under KanCare have no experience providing long-term assistance for those with developmental disabilities.
At the rally outside the Capitol, several hundred advocates and those with developmental disabilities spoke about the need to maintain the current service system and increase funding to remove a waiting list for services.
Lobb added, “KanCare will hurt us in the long run because these companies’ biggest concern is making money, not what is best for us.”
Meanwhile, inside the Statehouse, state welfare agency officials said completed audits and draft audits of centers for independent living, which provide services for those with physical disabilities, revealed inadequate recording keeping of financial records.
But the head of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas, said state officials were attacking the centers because advocates have filed complaints with the federal government that the state is not doing enough to provide assistance for thousands of Kansans with physical disabilities who are stuck for years on waiting lists for services.
“They have been on attack since the centers started filing Olmstead complaints,” said Shannon Jones, executive director of SILCK.
Olmstead said there is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says states must provide services to people with disabilities to enable them to be more integrated in the community. Officials on Tuesday revealed that the U.S. Justice Department was looking into complaints after talks with Brownback broke down.
Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said she “was in disbelief” at record keeping uncovered by the audits. “Someone in elementary school could have done better record keeping,” she said.
Gilmore said the records were in such bad shape it was impossible to determine whether fraud was committed.
But Jones said the audits were being appealed by the centers. She conceded there may be some record keeping problems, such as “messy” time sheets. “We could do better,” Jones said, but added, “To say it is fraud or mismanagement is untrue.”
But SRS officials said fraud did occur at the southwest Kansas center for independent living. “There was lots of corruptions and lots of mismanagement,” at that center, said Michael Donnelly, director of vocational rehabilitation services at SRS.
He said some officials there had used tax dollars for an open tab at a local bar and restaurant. “We think that was inappropriate,” he said.
Jones, however, said that center was shut down 18 months ago and SRS officials continue to talk about it to cast aspersions about other centers.
Rep. Ward said the centers must be held accountable but questioned the timing of SRS’ testimony on the audits. He noted the testimony came right after the revelation that the federal government was looking into whether state spending on services for those with disabilities was inadequate. And he noted it also came on the day that those with developmental disabilities were holding the rally challenging Brownback’s proposal to place their services in KanCare.