HOPE WITHIN REACH: Teresa Dodson should soon be able to receive at-home services for her son Nathan thanks to HB 1033.
Hundreds of Arkansas families who have been waiting years for state assistance in caring for developmentally disabled children or adults
will soon be able to access those services, thanks to a bill
signed into law by Governor Hutchinson this morning.
HB 1033 will use a portion of Arkansas's tobacco settlement
proceeds to expand the Alternative Community Services Waiver Program, which provides home- and community-based services
to individuals with developmental disabilities. Around 3,000 families are on the waiting list to receive waiver services. In September
, when the governor announced his intention to use $8.5 million in tobacco settlement funds to reduce the waitlist, he estimated the list would be reduced by 500 to 900 people.
DHS spokesperson Amy Webb told the Arkansas Times
this morning that those numbers still stand. The money will serve "a minimum of 500," she said, "but if they have less complex needs, we think we can serve up to 900. ... It just depends on individual needs."
In March 2016
, Hutchinson pledged to cut the waiting list in half within three years. This law make substantial progress on that promise.
, 16, is one of those who should be able to receive services under the new act. In 2014, the Times spoke to Teresa Dodson
, Nathan's mother, who had then been waiting for seven years for waiver services. Dodson said this morning that she was "ecstatic" about the news. Nathan is 76th in line on the waiting list, she said.
"In the past, I've not been real hopeful ... [now] it's within reach," she said. December marked her ninth year waiting for services for Nathan. "[He] was 7 when we applied, in December of 2007."
Arkansas Medicaid guarantees around-the-clock care for people with severe developmental disabilities — but only within an institution, such as one of the state's Human Development Centers. There are about 1,500 developmentally disabled Arkansans currently living in an HDC or a similar facility. However, for families that want to keep a disabled family member at home or in their community, there is no such guaranteed benefit. The waiver program allows Medicaid money to be used to pay for home- or community-based care (which is also cheaper than institutional care), but demand has long outstripped the cap on the waiver.
The bill contains an emergency clause and therefore takes effect immediately. Amy Webb said in an email that families will be able to get waiver services as soon as this summer:
Individuals on the waitlist can begin accessing services July 1 after undergoing an independent assessment by a third-party vendor and developing a plan of care with providers of their choice. (Assessment does not determine eligibility for the DDS [developmental disability services] waiver. It determines the level of services covered. Eligibility has already been established.) Typically it takes anywhere between 60-90 days for DDS waiver providers to hire and train staff and begin providing services. Note that more than 90 percent of our waiver dollars are spent on direct care provided by staff, which is why additional staff will need to be trained and hired. DDS has an implementation team that continues to look at realistic timeframes for transitioning such a large amount of clients into our system.
The lead sponsor of HB 1033 was Rep. Andy Mayberry (R-Hensley). It passed both chambers without opposition.