An open let­ter to Gov.-elect Laura Kelly on dis­abil­ity is­sues

The Wichita Eagle - - Opinion - BY DAVID P. RUNDLE David P. Rundle is a Wi­chita free­lance jour­nal­ist

Dear Gov. Kelly: Eight years ago, as he be­gan his dis­as­trous gov­er­nor­ship, I naively wrote Sam Brown­back on dis­abil­ity is­sues.

What those is­sues were I can’t re­call, but I set the tone by con­grat­u­lat­ing him on his victory and wish­ing him well. Even know­ing how his ad­min­is­tra­tion ended, I would still do the same. Our sys­tem, as you know, can­not work if we view the other as in­her­ently evil.

I urged Gov. Brown­back to be­gin a dia­logue with the dis­abil­ity com­mu­nity. But he never talked with us or even to us. He talked at us and from a very au­gust height.

This may have hurt our feel­ings, but that’s life. Pa­tron­iz­ing us hurt his Med­i­caid “re­form,” KanCare. Be­fore it took ef­fect on Jan. 1, 2013, in­put on KanCare was sup­posed to be given by con­sumers, ser­vice providers and fam­ily mem­bers at a se­ries of pub­lic meet­ings.

In Au­gust 2012, I at­tended one such af­fair. There, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were less in­ter­ested in get­ting our ideas than they were in try­ing to con­vince us our ideas weren’t needed be­cause it was con­ceived al­most flaw­lessly.

Abol­ish­ing KanCare, which hasn’t come close to ful­fill­ing Brown­back’s prom­ises, isn’t likely given con­ser­va­tive con­trol the House, but you can make it more re­spon­sive.

First, es­tab­lish an ex­ec­u­tive ad­vi­sory board com­posed of gov­ern­ment and in­sur­ance ex­perts, ser­vice providers and con­sumers. For rea­sons I’ll get to shortly, find one or two younger adults with dis­abil­i­ties — bright, not yet cyn­i­cal minds with a pas­sion for so­cial jus­tice. They’ll bring ide­al­ism to the ta­ble. They’ll learn how to get a lot of what you want from gov­ern­ment — you never get ev­ery­thing you want — through bar­gain­ing and com­pro­mise, skills they can use all their lives.

Sec­ond, ex­pand Med­i­caid. Yes, more peo­ple need cov­ered, some­thing Brown­back said would hurt the dis­abled. But he never asked us if we op­posed giv­ing the work­ing poor health cov­er­age. So­cial jus­tice is not a zero sum game. Women, the el­derly, the poor, mi­nori­ties and the dis­abled are in the same boat and shouldn’t be at each other’s throats.

Third, don’t just ex­pand who is cov­ered; ex­pand what is cov­ered. Cur­rently, waivers only cover med­i­cal trans­porta­tion. Why not cover vo­ca­tional and recre­ational trans­porta­tion too?

Fourth, shorten waiver wait lists. Some wait years and oth­ers die wait­ing. Fix it, please.

Mov­ing be­yond KanCare, there needs to be more em­pha­sis on em­ploy­ment, es­pe­cially as teens leave high school. Some, per­haps most, won’t go to col­lege and there’s no shame in that.

But if teens who are blind, deaf or mo­bil­ity im­paired show signs of col­lege abil­ity, why not en­cour­age some to con­sider pub­lic ser­vice?

Pro­gres­sive me­dia went bonkers over the di­ver­sity of the new Congress. But no one in the House is se­verely dis­abled. Why not? Help get peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in of­fice. Be bold.

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