Medicaid cuts will doom services for developmentally disabled

June 30, 2009

Cuts to Medicaid benefits for hundreds of developmentally disabled people in Colorado take effect today, a move that will be devastating, caretakers and advocates say.

Annual payments for services such as transportation and work programs are being cut by at least half for about 700 Coloradans with developmental disabilities.

Others will lose a lesser percentage, but some stand to gain financial assistance, said Timothy Hall, deputy executive director for veterans and disability services for the Colorado Department of Human Services.

"There are a lot of difficult challenges now, including this one," he said. "And while some people will receive more money, some will receive less, and it may be viewed as controversial."

The change was set into motion by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, which required that Colorado's reimbursement system be standardized after an audit found discrepancies in how Medicaid dollars were being spent.

"Nothing was consistent, and there were questions of how Medicaid dollars were being used for salaries. It was a complete disaster, according to CMS," said Teddi Roberts, executive director of the Arc of the Pikes Peak Region, which provides guardianship and advocacy services for the developmentally disabled and acts as a watchdog agency for them.

The state's developmental disabilities division created a new model that bases benefits on a person's level of disability. The system also places limitations and caps on spending.

Previously, the amount had been individually negotiated between the agency providing the service and the agency coordinating services.

Thirty-one-year-old Colorado Springs resident Aimee Starling, whose brain was damaged after she got stuck in her mother's birth canal and was deprived of oxygen, is among those losing a hefty chunk of financial support.

Aimee's total annual payment of $29,500 is being sliced to $13,267, her mother, Kathy Starling, said. The cut eliminates many quality-of-life services Aimee has had for years, including reading tutoring, a YMCA pass, classes at Bemis School of Art and one-on-one assistance with certain activities. Starling's one-week respite care allowance of $1,331 is gone. Her daughter's dental supplement falls from $2,000 a year to $200, and a vision plan drops from $1,000 to $340.

Developmentally disabled people who receive what's called supported living services to help them be as independent as possible while living at home have been able to tailor an individualized plan and choose from a menu of services using their annual financial allotment, said Christina Butero, spokeswoman for the Arc of the Pikes Peak Region. The typical plan paid about $11,500 annually, she said.

"Now that has decreased for many so that they only have $6,000," she said, "and people are losing jobs, transportation and opportunities to develop natural support systems."

Roberts said many disabled people in the Pikes Peak region are being classified in the two lowest tiers and are not seeing increases in financial assistance.

The effects are being felt industrywide. Sharon Blampied is a reading tutor with The Resource Exchange, which coordinates services for developmentally disabled people in El Paso, Teller and Park counties. She said she learned a week ago that decreased Medicaid benefits for her students means her salary is being cut by 75 percent.

Aimee Starling has been one of her 21 students - but that ends today.

"It's like cutting family out of my heart. I will miss them. I'm not only a teacher who works on their reading and mental skills but also an advocate and a friend," Blampied said.



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