Big losses for Minnesota’s disabled under House health budget bill

Print

Projected state spending on health care and social services would be cut by $1.7 billion in the next two years under a bill passed Thursday by the Minnesota House of Representatives.

The bill makes at least $334 million in cuts to programs and services for the disabled, not including thousands who will lose health coverage by the reversal of Gov. Mark Dayton’s executive order to expand Medicaid.

Steve Larson, policy director at The Arc of Minnesota, says people with disabilities are being unfairly targeted.

“It takes money away from supporting group homes, from programs that help employ individuals with disabilities. It cuts back on their medical services, takes away grants that support families to keep their children in their homes, and it takes money away from personal-care assistance, one of our most cost-effective programs.”

GOP leaders say the cuts are necessary to address the state’s budget deficit, but Larson says the bill does not look at the consequences of the cuts, which would be more costly to the state in the long run. He estimates that more than 800 disabled individuals could be placed in nursing homes because of losing services that help them live independently in the community.

Lee Ann and Dale Erickson have two adult sons with developmental disabilities. Thanks to a Medical Assistance waiver program called Consumer-Directed Community Supports, their sons Jim and Ted are able to live independently in their own home in Fairmont, with occasional stays at the family farm. Lee Ann is worried now about how the 20 percent cut in waivered services will affect her sons.

“We would be facing a choice of ‘will the boys continue to live in town, but will they have to spend more time at our home?’ That could be a temporary fix. But what happens if we’re not able to provide that care? Because both my husband and I are getting older, and we’re not going to be around all of the time.”

She says the waivered services cost about $40,000 per year for both her sons, while a nursing home setting for the two would cost more than $140,000.

The waiver’s flexibility to use resources in a way that best meets her sons’ needs has been critical, Lee Ann says, particularly during this past winter. Ted has a seizure disorder that sometimes lands him in the hospital, so he needs regular staffing to ensure his safety.

“We live out in the country, and with the weather, the roads aren’t always open and the ambulances might not be able to get to our house. But Ted could stay in town, and we were able to find and fund the staff to be there and then adjust the budget at another time.”

It’s important to Lee Ann for her sons to have the freedom and dignity to make basic decisions about what to eat, visiting friends, and what time to go to bed – choices they wouldn’t have in a nursing home. She adds that it benefits the economy if people with disabilities can live independently.

“When they’re out in the community, they get their services there, they buy their groceries, and they provide jobs in the community. This is a place that we need jobs. Cutting the waivers are going to cut the staff.”