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Legislature Questions SRS about Feds in discussion with SRS over waiting list

khi-logoSRS sheds little light on waiting-list discussion with feds

Confidentiality agreement precludes sharing details with Legislature, SRS official says

By Dave Ranney KHI News Service March 15, 2012

TOPEKA — A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Service today declined to say much about a recent meeting with federal officials who are known to have raised concerns about the state's growing waiting list for services for the disabled. “Both parties to the discussion have agreed to a strict confidentiality clause, so there’s not a lot that I can say,” said SRS Deputy Secretary Gary Haulmark, testifying before the House Aging and Long-term Care Committee.

Haulmark described the agency’s Feb. 27 closed-door meeting with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials as “very informal,” informational, and ongoing.The discussion, he acknowledged, was about the waiting list for Medicaid-funded services for the physically disabled.

Currently, more than 3,400 people with physical disabilities are known to be on the waiting list. Two- and three-year waits are not unusual. Advocates for the disabled have said the long waits violate provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Rep. Bob Bethell, an Alden Republican and chair of the committee, asked Haulmark to provide the panel with a copy of the “letter of findings” that he assumed HHS had presented to SRS. Haulmark said he was unaware of such a letter.

Bethell asked Haulmark to confirm a “grapevine” report that SRS had been given 30 days to respond to the concerns raised by HHS. Haulmark, who did not attend the Feb. 27 meeting, said he’d not heard that a deadline had been set.

Bethell also said he’d heard that SRS had asked for 90 days to respond and that HHS had denied the request.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Haulmark said. “But, again, any of those conversations would be covered by the confidentiality that’s been agreed to by both sides.”

Afterward, Bethell said he was puzzled that SRS insisted on confidentiality.

“Some of it, I can understand,” he said. “But there needs to be transparency and I would think that SRS would want to at least let the Legislature in on what the issues are. I say that because I think we can help them.”

Mike Oxford, executive director at the Topeka Independent Living and Resource Center, criticized Haulmark's remarks to the committee.

“What we heard today was a whitewash,” Oxford said. “They can say, ‘Oh, we’re just chatting, and maybe something will happen or maybe it won’t,’ but that’s not what’s happening.”

For three years, Oxford and other advocates for the disabled have encouraged people on the waiting list file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights within HHS.

“There’s been an active investigation on the part of HHS. That is a fact,” Oxford said. “What’s happening now is HHS is reviewing its findings with the state and at any time during this process, HHS can just turn the whole thing over to the Department of Justice. That would be no small thing.”

Twice last summer, U.S. District Attorney Barry Grissom said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was close to citing Kansas for not doing enough to help disabled people live in community settings rather than in institutions.

The state, he said, either would have to expand its network of home- and community-based services or face the likelihood of his office filing a lawsuit in federal court.

“This is a big deal guys,” Grissom said, addressing a July 21, 2011, meeting of the Topeka Human Relations Commission.

A lawsuit could lead to the state having to spend millions of dollars on additional services.

SRS officials last year said eliminating the waiting lists for both the physically and developmentally disabled would likely cost the state an additional $72.9 million.

More than 2,600 developmentally disabled adults and children are known to be on the SRS waiting lists.

The KHI News Service is an editorially independent program of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Read more about the News Service.

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