Wait-listed health care is nothing new in the U.S., and tragedy has been highlighted repeatedly following long wait times. According to PBS.org, wait lists have been responsible for an undetermined number of negative health outcomes, including death, among veterans and people around the country.
Considering children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), these outcomes may not receive as much attention as they deserve. However, recent action by Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas is providing a road map for ways legislatures can help children get the care they need for developmental disabilities, and you need to understand how it will translate into help for those you serve.
What Exactly Did the Law Do?
HB 1033, signed into law by Governor Hutchinson, is a plan to use monies gathered from the Arkansas’ tobacco settlement to increase the number of available caregivers and therapists needed to treat more than 3,000 families on the developmental disabilities waitlist in the state, reports the Arkansas Times. Although only $8.5 million in the bill comes from the tobacco settlement, an additional $20 million will be gathered from federal funding sources.
This will help to prevent the worsening of conditions among those on the waitlist, which may help curb future costs of caring for children with developmental disabilities.
Why Is Reducing the Waitlist to Developmental Disability Care Essential?
No one wants to wait to get health care. That is a simple fact of modern society, but not everyone has access to affordable health care, regardless of current repeal or replacement plans for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Even those who do still face the challenges of getting appointments and seeing a provider within their respective health care networks. Unfortunately, this leads to the creation of long waitlists in states across the union.
For children living with developmental disabilities or intellectual disability, time is not on their side because early intervention is critical in reducing lifelong impact and setbacks from these conditions.
For example, children with suspected autism spectrum disorder (ASD) should begin early intervention treatment, including speech, occupational and physical therapy as soon as possible, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means children from birth to age 3 are often eligible to receive early intervention services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But, what happens when a child grows out of this age group?
A recent article published by PBS.org found more than 800,000 people are currently caring for someone, such as a child or other family member, with such conditions in their homes. Meanwhile, the state-run programs continue to deal with shrinking provider networks, contributing to longer waits to get care. For children, a few months of waiting can mean the difference between success and failure in treatment, and even states that have well-known resources are being affected.
In California, a state-run health care system provides services for people in this group. However, the chairwoman of the organization, April Lopez, recognizes the program does not run as intended. Reimbursement rates in this program are low, “discouraging doctors and health centers from providing services,” and services may not be available in a timely manner.
How Does the Law Reduce the IDD Waitlist?
Language is the guardian of how quickly the new law will reduce waitlist issues in Arkansas. Starting on July 1, 2017, individuals currently on the existing waitlist will be able to access care through a special developmental disability services (DDS) waiver. Afterward, 90 percent of funds pumped into the waiver system will be used to hire and train direct care providers (DSPs). Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the waitlist by increasing the number of available caregivers.
Are Laws to Reduce Developmental Disability Waitlists a Temporary Fix?
Yes and no.
Since these laws function by permanently increasing the number of caregivers available, they provide a long-term solution. However, accessing funding to continue providing necessary services to children, teens and adults with developmental or intellectual disability will be a long-term consideration for federal and state legislatures. Yet, this Arkansas’ bill sets a new precedent for state-sponsored funding of care.
Think back to the California example. This bill reveals bipartisan support in state legislatures for reducing waitlists to health care of developmental disabilities. In other words, individual states need to start looking for ways to increase access to health care until the federal government devises a passable, affordable and acceptable means of eliminating waitlists for IDD services.
Essentially, the bill that Gov. Hutchinson signed into law will have an impact on other states’ proceedings soon, so the fix will become more permanent with time.
How Will New Laws Impact Your Organization?
The law to reduce waitlists in Arkansas is only the beginning. Last June, a pilot program in Colorado gave hundreds of students with intellectual or developmental disabilities the opportunity to go to college, reports CBS Denver. So, service providers in the area might have seen an increase in the number of people receiving care, but official statistics have yet to be released. In other words, more children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities are realizing their full potential, and it starts with having equal access to timely, affordable care.
Your organization will play a role in how your state addresses demand for services among children and others with intellectual disabilities. If a program has not yet been mentioned in your legislature, consider looking at recent settlements being finalized in your state. This website, USA.gov, is an excellent resource for finding recent information by typing the following phrase into the search bar, “government settlement in [state],” replacing [state] with the name of your state.
Consider speaking with your representatives to discuss your organization’s opinion on using settlement funds to increase service availability or reduce and prevent high employee-turnover rates in your organization. You do not need to get political to be effective in helping children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities to be able to access care in your area without long waits, but you do have to take the first steps to at least ask, letting your voice be heard.
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