Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Patching Florida's safety net

CHERIE DIEZ | Times 
Kelly Krohel, with her father, Ken, attends graduation last month in Pinellas Park at the Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center. With a Medicaid waiver, Krohel, 22, who is autistic, can keep getting therapies to help her be as independent as possible.
Published Jun. 16, 2017

More than 20,000 Floridians with intellectual and developmental disabilities are stuck on a waiting list to receive Medicaid benefits for critical services such as personal care, job training and transportation. About 500 of them have recently graduated from high school. Normally a time of new beginnings — college, job, independence — graduation is the onset of uncertainty for families with special needs kids, and a reminder to the rest of us of the importance of a stronger safety net that lets far fewer people slip through the cracks.

The Tampa Bay Times' Donna Winchester recently profiled Kelly Krohel, a severely autistic woman who graduated last month from Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center. At 22, she cannot drive or care for herself and has limited speech. But she has a flair for art and is headed for a day program at PARC in St. Petersburg, which serves adults with developmental disabilities. She can also continue receiving therapies that will help her be as independent as possible — all thanks to her Medicaid waiver.

Kelly, along with her aging caregiver-parents, are an example — a fortunate one — of what happens to developmentally disabled kids and those on the autism spectrum when they leave the school system. Many are enrolled in Medicaid as children and receive services along the way. But they "age out" at 22, and even if they qualify for Medicaid for health care as adults, they need what's called a Home and Community Based Services Waiver to continue receiving occupational, physical and speech therapies, nursing care, respite care, dietary assistance, transportation and more. The waiver also helps pay for resources such as PARC, which offers programs in the arts, horticulture, culinary and — perhaps most important — employment support and training.

What would happen to these individuals and their families without that help? Nationally, 1 in 5 families with a special needs child report one parent having to quit a job to provide full-time caregiving. A quarter of such caregivers are over age 60. Helping people with these unique disabilities to live independently is the only sustainable public policy. It's also in the public interest — institutionalizing the disabled is enormously more expensive — and morally right. Yet Medicaid funding for these programs has never kept pace with demand, and the money is often cut.

The 2017-18 state budget signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott offers modest hope. It provides $3.7 million to take 340 people off the waiver waiting list, but at that rate it would take decades to significantly reduce the waiting list. The money prioritizes critical cases, such as disabled people whose caregiver is critically ill. It won't stretch to recent high school graduates on the waiting list. There's also a nearly $16 million boost in funding for providers, who are being paid at less than 2003 levels. That's making it extremely difficult to recruit and retain workers to provide the services. The money is non-recurring though, which means the hole will need to be filled again next year. Another bright spot is transportation. The budget includes a $5 million increase to a transportation program for disadvantaged people, as well as $3.5 million for a transportation grant and $100,000 for a transportation study and task force for individuals with development disabilities, who consistently list transportation as a top need.

The cost of Kelly Krohel's future care is projected to run $120,000 a year. That would be impossible for most Florida families to cover themselves without the assistance of Medicaid. Developmentally and intellectually disabled adults can lead full, productive lives, but they need help. Enabling them to access engaging programs and job training, helping their parents maintain jobs and keeping them out of institutions is in everyone's — including the public's — best interest.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o has written a children's book called Sulwe, about a girl who "was born the color of midnight."[Photo (2014) by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP] File photo
    Most white people have never heard of skin lightening cream or the “paper bag test,” where your fiance can be no darker than a paper sack. | Leonard Pitts Jr.
  2. Ayana Lage, 26, and Vagner Lage, 27, pose with a sonogram of their unborn child. Ayana writes openly about going through a miscarriage due to the baby having a rare genetic defect. She wonders why more women don't discuss their miscarriages. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Sunday’s letters to the editor
  3. Kreshae Humphrey, 26, applies ointments to the skin of her 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Soto De Jesus, after bathing her in bottled water. The parents bathe all three of their girls with bottled water because they believe the children were sickened by the tap water at the Southern Comfort mobile home park off U.S. 19 in Clearwater. The family is suing the park's owner over the issue, but the owner and the state say there are no problems with the drinking water there. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The story of a Clearwater mobile home park and its water issues reflects a systemic breakdown.
  4. A long stretch of US 98 remains closed for repairs in Mexico Beach on Friday, September 27, 2019, almost one year after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the small coastal town. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Time is running out, so let’s get practical, says Craig Fugate
  5. FROM PRINT: Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    Sure, fix capitalism’s flaws, but a wealth tax is not the way. | Adam Goodman
  6. 
 CLAY BENNETT  |  Chattanooga Times Free Press
  7. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  8. Catherine Rampell, Washington Post columnist.
    Allegations of political cowardice can seem rich coming from candidates unwilling to acknowledge the obvious truths about things such as higher taxes. | Catherine Rampell
  9. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, former Vice President Joe Biden, center, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raise their hands to speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  10. Yesterday• Opinion
    Letters to the Editor Graphic TARA MCCARTY  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Saturday’s letters to the editor
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement