Gov. Matt Mead and state health officials don’t know how much money they’ll save through an overhaul of a disability program that serves thousands of people in Wyoming, Mead said Tuesday.
State leaders launched the redesign earlier this year so they’d have money to address the nearly 600 people languishing on a waiting list for services. At this point, they’re not certain how many of them will be added to the Home and Community-Based Waivers program thanks to the overhaul.
“There’s numbers all over the map in terms of how many you can reduce from the waiting list,” Mead said during a speech at the Wyoming Developmental Disability Forum in Casper. “The fact of the matter is we don’t know that yet because we don’t know what savings we’ll find.”
If the overhaul doesn’t have the desired result, the state should consider addressing the waiting list through increased spending, Mead said. State lawmakers have rejected similar suggestions in the past.
The waivers serve more than 2,200 people with developmental disabilities and brain injuries. Parents use them to send special-needs children to day programs and group homes. They also pay for job services and home-based assistance.
The program is already the most expensive in Wyoming’s Medicaid system. It has an annual budget of $103 million, not counting medical costs.
Lawmakers launched the redesign as a way to serve more people without spending more money. But that will mean less funding for those already in the program.
Concern over budget cuts sparked protests in several cities last month. Family members worry a loss in funding will result in less independence and care for loved ones.
About 25 people protested outside the Casper College building where Mead made his speech. He stopped and spoke with many of them on his way inside.
“How appropriate that is, that they are here,” he said at the start of his speech. “They are involved. They are aware of what the situation is, and they’ve got a point of view. That is government the way we want it.”
Public concern has already led state health officials to make major changes to the redesign. They intend to create two waivers. Under the original plan, most people would have received a support waiver with a spending cap. A smaller group would have qualified for a comprehensive option to pay for more intensive and expensive services.
After the outcry, officials decided people already in the program will be grandfathered onto the comprehensive waiver. People coming off the waiting list will start out on the support waiver.
Mead said he’s happy with the changes.
“I don’t want a plan that is not good for those who are disabled,” he said.
Mead spoke at a forum hosted by the Wyoming Community Service Providers, which represents organizations that serve people with developmental disabilities and brain injuries.
Chris Newman, a senior state Health Department administrator, also addressed the group. She acknowledged the process led to some confusion among providers and families. But she said officials created a better product thanks to public feedback.
“We are listening and we want this to work,” she said.
Officials expect the redesign will result in savings, but she said it will take time to transfer people from the waiting list into the program.
“We are talking about slowly doing this as funding becomes available,” she said.