Governor touts aid for 500 disabled
But agency says paring of waiting list has hardly started
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.
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.