- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas is delaying a planned consolidation of seven programs providing in-home services for the disabled and elderly for a few months until spring 2017, and a key legislator said Tuesday that slowing the project down is “doing the right thing.”

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has pursued the “integration” since last year, arguing it would deliver services more efficiently and give participants access to more programs. But some legislators and advocates for the disabled have worried that Brownback’s administration is moving too quickly and the changes would reduce services.

The administration had planned to consolidate the programs in January, but Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer said the integration would be delayed until legislators finished their next annual session in spring 2017. Colyer, who often acts as the administration’s top spokesman on health care issues, made the commitment in a letter last week to House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican.

Hawkins said Tuesday that he met last week with Colyer to obtain the promise in writing because committee members want to see the details of a consolidation plan. The state needs the federal government’s approval, because the in-home services are covered under Medicaid.

“That would give us one more chance to say yes or no, and I thought that was a very fair agreement,” Hawkins said, before later adding: “By slowing this thing down, I think we’re doing the right thing.”

The seven programs provide services to about 23,000 people and cost about $600 million a year. They include services such as personal care and help with household tasks for the elderly and the physically and developmentally disabled, as well as services for autistic children and people with traumatic brain injuries.

The administration plans to offer a benefits package for children and a separate one for adults. Supporters say doing that will give participants access to services that may not be available to them in their specific program.

But advocates for the disabled have been skeptical. The state turned management of its Medicaid program over to three private health insurance companies in 2013 and since then has faced complaints about access to services and the processing of claims.

“What it means is a direct impact on every service for every person,” said Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, which represents community groups providing services for the developmentally disabled.

A House Health and Human Services subcommittee last month recommended delaying the consolidation until January 2018. Still, earlier this month, officials told lawmakers that the administration was still on track for a January 2017 start date.

In his letter last week, Colyer said he and Brownback understand that lawmakers are concerned about not having enough input and promised “we will not proceed with any implementation” until lawmakers finish their 2017 session, likely in May.

But Rep. Jim Ward, of Wichita, the ranking Democrat on the House health committee, said legislators should enact a law imposing the delay, “so no one gets confused.”

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: https://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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