Gover­nor touts aid for 500 dis­abled

But agency says par­ing of wait­ing list has hardly started

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ANDY DAVIS

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son on Tues­day touted a new law that he said has al­ready re­duced the num­ber of Arkansans with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties who are on a wait­ing list for ser­vices such as help with bathing, dress­ing and other daily tasks.

But Brandi Hin­kle, a state Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices spokesman, said later Tues­day that the ser­vices for the 500 peo­ple who are to be taken off the list haven’t yet started.

The depart­ment has ver­i­fied the el­i­gi­bil­ity of 25 peo­ple who were on the list and has ap­proved plans for their ser­vices. But those peo­ple must still take other steps, such as choos­ing their ser­vice provider, be­fore they can start re­ceiv­ing the help, she said.

In pur­su­ing the goal of 500, the depart­ment is also

re­view­ing in­for­ma­tion from 190 other peo­ple on the wait­ing list who re­sponded to a let­ter in April seek­ing in­for­ma­tion needed to ver­ify their el­i­gi­bil­ity and de­velop ser­vice plans, she said. That process can take up to 90 days, she said.

Many ap­pli­cants live in in­sti­tu­tions and must also find hous­ing be­fore the ser­vices can start, Hin­kle said.

“The ul­ti­mate goal is for them to have the high­est qual­ity of in­de­pen­dent liv­ing that they can,” she said.

In a speech to the Ro­tary Club of Lit­tle Rock, Hutchin­son said 500 peo­ple are “get­ting ser­vices that they did not have be­fore.”

He said he will con­tinue work­ing to shrink the list.

“It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that when­ever you tackle a prob­lem, you start at the be­gin­ning, and you do it step by step,” Hutchin­son said.

The ser­vices are avail­able thanks to Act 50 of 2017, which al­lo­cated $ 8.5 mil­lion a year from the state’s share of the 1998 to­bacco law­suit set­tle­ment to pro­vide home- and com­mu­nity-based as­sis­tance to Arkansans with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

About 3,000 Arkansans were on a wait­ing list for the ser­vices at the time the law was passed.

The set­tle­ment money will be matched with about $ 20 mil­lion in Med­i­caid funds, which state of­fi­cials have said will al­low the state to serve an ad­di­tional 500 to 900 peo­ple.

Rules ap­proved by the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil last month raised the cap on the num­ber of Arkansans who can re­ceive the ser­vice at any point dur­ing the year from 4,183 to 4,683.

Hin­kle said the wait­ing list in­cluded 3,421 names as of Tues­day and is to be re­duced to 2,921 with the help of the to­bacco set­tle­ment money.

Of­fi­cials with the U. S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices’ Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices have given ver­bal ap­proval for the in­crease in the cap and are ex­pected to is­sue writ­ten ap­proval by Oct. 1, she said.

The state Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment will seek ap­proval to in­crease the cap fur­ther if it ap­pears fea­si­ble on the ba­sis of the cost of serv­ing the first 500 peo­ple on the list, Hin­kle said.

Those who have been on the list the long­est will be served first, she said. That in­cludes sev­eral peo­ple who have been on the list since 2007.

In his speech, Hutchin­son also noted that other rule changes that went into ef­fect July 1 in­clude an over­haul of the men­tal health ben­e­fits pro­vided by the state’s Med­i­caid pro­gram.

That over­haul is part of a

plan to re­duce growth in the state’s Med­i­caid spend­ing, in­clud­ing state and fed­eral funds, by enough to save $835 mil­lion over five years.

The changes are de­signed to pro­vide more ser­vices in clin­ics, doc­tor’s of­fices and other lo­ca­tions in­stead of in psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals. They also al­low a provider to re­ceive re­im­burse­ment for both sub­stance abuse and men­tal health treat­ment pro­vided to the same pa­tient, which was pre­vi­ously pro­hib­ited, Hin­kle said.

The new rules also lift a re­stric­tion that pro­hib­ited re­im­burse­ment for men­tal

health ser­vices and sub­stance abuse treat­ment that are pro­vided in the same lo­ca­tion.

In a state­ment Tues­day, Hutchin­son said the changes will help re­duce the abuse of opi­oids and metham­phetamine by mak­ing sub­stance abuse treat­ment more widely avail­able.

“This com­mon-sense ap­proach will in­crease ac­cess to ad­dic­tion treat­ment by al­low­ing doc­tors to send a pa­tient di­rectly to a coun­selor, rather than hop­ing the pa­tient will keep an ap­point­ment across town a week later,” Hutchin­son said.

The ser­vices are avail­able thanks to Act 50 of 2017, which al­lo­cated $8.5 mil­lion a year from the state’s share of the 1998 to­bacco law­suit set­tle­ment to pro­vide home- and com­mu­nity-based as­sis­tance to Arkansans with de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.

Gov. Asa Hutchin­son spoke to the Ro­tary Club of Lit­tle Rock on Tues­day at the Clin­ton Pres­i­den­tial Cen­ter on top­ics in­clud­ing progress on cut­ting the wait­ing list for home-based ser­vices for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

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