In government, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between pausing for thought and stopping for politics.
We mean: Occasionally officials say they want to study an issue more in depth only to have it disappear from public conversation and die in relative obscurity.
So forgive us our concern when it comes to proposed changes to a state waiver program that serves individuals with developmental disabilities.
The challenge with the state program as it stands is once an individual qualifies and is enrolled in the waiver program, he or she is entitled to the full range of care, regardless of need. From an accounting perspective, the state is obligated to fund the program as if every client needed every possible service. The expensive program meant that enrollment was severely limited, causing many families desperately in need of help to wait — sometimes for years.
Currently, the program has about 2,200 people enrolled, with a waiting list of nearly 600.
The reality was a few residents needed a lot of services, while most needed just a few. However, since the state had just one program, one size truly had to fit all.
State lawmakers correctly said if the programs and services were tailored so that people could qualify for just what they needed, they’d be able to put more citizens on the program and eliminate — or at least shrink — an overburdened waiting list.
Talk of changing the program naturally makes folks nervous. For many families, this program is a lifeline, helping to support the residents who need the assistance. The thought of taking away a safety net of support is worrisome. Advocates can’t help but wonder if this is a way to cut services without eliminating programs.
So, last week, state officials announced they were going to take more input and study the issue more thoroughly.
Let’s be clear: We should applaud any effort by government officials to be more thoughtful, take input and try to make the system better. In so many instances, government and elected officials are merely reactive, responding to the political peeve of the moment.
We believe an issue like the services that are provided to those who may not be in a position to lobby and advocate for themselves, is the right approach. We are grateful that the often-maligned government workers are analyzing the problem, presumably trying to strike the balance between providing needed services and support, and meeting the demand for help.
However, this particular topic of changing the waiver program hasn’t been without criticism or scrutiny. Some worry that “studying” the issue is simply code for doing nothing. In other words, this might be studying an issue to a slow, quiet, out-of-the-public death.
Officials with the health department will have new revisions to a proposal completed by the end of this month, according to Casper Star-Tribune reports. We hope the department continues to take feedback, but at some point, changes either have to be made, or the program maintained.
It’s important to remember that as these changes are contemplated, the demand for these important programs won’t just dissipate.
What is essentially going on is a numbers game — how many people; how much do the programs cost; how much could be saved; and how high would the caps be?
Yet, the heart of the matter isn’t about numbers, it’s about people — those who need help, and their families.