Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014 Legislative Session Wrap-Up

Tom Laing, Executive Director

The 2014 legislative session will be remembered in the disability arena as one in which virtually no forward motion occurred.  

The final nail was pounded into the coffin of managed care carve-out advocacy, a Federal directive was reluctantly heeded to end the under-served waiting list, a few dollars were thrown at the un-served waiting list, and no action was taken to address our low reimbursement rates.  

In other words, our experience was similar to many groups.  Ask teachers, environmentalists, children’s groups, fair tax advocates and you will hear the same story.  The 2014 session was mostly frustrating and fruitless and sometimes downright destructive.

KanCare:  Some talk was promoted in the Capitol regarding KanCare vigilance but the only outcome worth noting was a “prompt payment act” (HB 2552) to assure that vendors have a legal right to demand prompt payment from MCOs.  Otherwise, with rare exceptions – for example Rep. Jim Ward continued to offer the active voice of opposition – most legislators had the same shoulder-shrug as in the past, as if to say, “What can we do? The deal is done.”

Waiver Stewardship: As in prior years, our quality-based (Q-base) expansion message was heard (allocate new resources equally for waiver expansion and for capacity expansion via improved reimbursement rates) but the message was ignored. Some money was spent, grudgingly, to end the under-served waiting list (because the Federal government insisted) and at the end of the session, funding for 77 of the more than 3000 on the unserved list was appropriated...  an embarrassingly paltry effort. No money was provided for rate enhancements. The outcome? Quality expansion of waiver services will be hampered by depressed rates and the resulting workforce shortages; and the waiting list will grow, not shrink, due to the ongoing ambivalence to the size of the waiting list.

Family advocacy remained alive on the autism front: Some new success was achieved in the passage of legislation encouraging autism insurance coverage. This was a tribute to organized autism family advocacy and a handful of legislators who would not be told NO despite the active opposition of the insurance industry. Some will assert that they continue to have some problems with the legislation, but the forward motion of this effort will certainly create an evidentiary record that this (and other) disability insurance mandates are not the industry-wrecking laws that some insurers claimed.

InterHab member energy is already being gathered for new mission-renewal initiatives in 2015: With this round of KanCare debate settled for now, for better or worse, InterHab members have already begun to make plans to revitalize Q-Base advocacy for 2015. This State’s performance must simply be brought into the light, so that the public and policymakers can weigh the inadequacy of current reimbursement rates, and the increasingly shocking neglect so demonstrated by growing waiting lists.

What is our assignment for the coming weeks and months? Relationship building and electoral accountability come to the front of the discussion.

Two groups of legislators demand our immediate advocacy attention. The first group consists of Senators, none of whom are required to run for reelection in this election cycle. These men and women uniformly need to be reminded of the importance of disability initiatives. The second group would be House members who are running again in November, but who find themselves unopposed. They will almost certainly be back in January for another term of office.  Since they have no campaigns to run, they have time to see you and talk to you. From this day forward, make it a priority to meet and confer with them to remind them of your concerns, reintroduce them to their neighbors with disabilities and their families whom they may have forgotten about, and emphatically describe for them the cost of neglect when it comes to the needs of the disability service network. 

And then there is the election: As you know, we do not advocate for or against any candidate or question on the ballot. Your organizations, also, are politically neutral in the tug of war that is the election process. HOWEVER, we all have a right and a responsibility to inform one another about the actions of the legislature, and legislators, and governors.

You all know, for the most part, whether your legislators or governor have been good or bad for disability services. You know whether they have been accessible and receptive. You also know that your actions have a direct bearing on how a legislator responds. 

Legislators who support you: You know these men and women. They take your calls. They visit your organizations AND they usually vote WITH you when they are asked to do so. Each of them is entitled to the most appreciative words of encouragement from all of us, and your stakeholders should be told of those legislators who do support you.

Legislators who are adrift: Some legislators, when they do not hear compelling information about our issues, have drifted away into an uninformed position, and have not been reliable supporters of your efforts. They are on-again, off-again at best. These are legislators for whom we want to redouble our educational efforts. Each of them could become a “friend” in the coming session if we all do our jobs. 

Legislators who turn their backs on you: These are the ones who most frustrate us. They know the issues, they have been reached out to, touched, educated, connected with your stakeholders, but they usually do NOT vote with you, and sometimes they are openly HOSTILE to your advocacy.  What do we do with these legislators? There is one sensible approach. Get to know the candidate that has chosen to run against them. Educate those new candidates and introduce them to the constituents that you work for.  And, if you like them, as citizens you have a right, on your own time, to act in accordance to your electoral instincts.

As for the Governor’s race? Do what you think is best, unless your “best” is a rocking-chair position. Our government works well only when we the people make it work well. The time for action is now. 

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