Waiting lists for disability services criticized
4/10/2014 Tony Leys, DesMoines 2:58 p.m. CDT April 9, 2014
Advocates for Iowans with mental disabilities or brain injuries gathered at the Statehouse today to decry years-long waiting lists for support services.
The advocates said 7,700 Iowans are waiting for "Medicaid waiver" services, partly because Gov. Terry Branstad last summer vetoed $8.7 million legislators had approved to clear the waiting lists.
Kim Jensen of Cedar Falls said her 12-year-old daughter, who has a severe mental disorder, has lived at an Illinois facility for two years. The state of Iowa is paying huge costs for that care, but it won't let her daughter onto a special Medicaid waiver program that would pay for cheaper, in-home care back in Iowa, she said at a press conference.
She's been told that her daughter might have to leave the Illinois facility this summer with no prospect for support services back in Iowa.
"If my daughter had cancer, and was told she had to stay in a hospital to get chemotherapy because there's none in the community, or that she'd have to wait two years to get chemotherapy because there's a waiting list, there would be a huge outcry from the public," Jensen said.
Geoffrey Lauer, executive director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, said the House of Representatives is considering $4.8 million toward clearing the waiting lists. Lauer applauded the effort, but said it wouldn't go nearly far enough. He estimated that $22 million is needed, and he added that the federal government would more than match that amount of state spending under the Medicaid program.
Lauer noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that disabled people have a right to live in the least restrictive setting possible. He said keeping them in institutions instead of providing services for them in communities violates that right. His group has threatened to sue the state of Iowa in the past, and he said Wednesday that such a suit remains possible.
The services include such things as in-home therapy, living-skills training and respite care, which offers family members a break from caring for a disabled or ill person.
After the press conference, Lauer and more than two dozen supporters went downstairs to the governor's staff offices. They met there with Branstad's health-care advisor, Michael Bousselot, who said their concerns are being considered. "We are aware of the need," Bousselot told them. "Gov. Branstad is going to have an open mind about this."
Bousselot said Branstad vetoed last year's money because he was concerned about financial sustainability of the Medicaid program.
He said Iowa has increased spending on mental health care by $115 million over the past three years, and more federal money is expected to come in under Iowa's Health and Wellness Program, which is the state's version of expanded Medicaid.
But the advocates said those programs don't affect the services under the Medicaid waiver programs.