Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hawaii's "sacrifice" of its children becomes a national scandal that extends to the state's elderly and disabled

Hawaii's Governor Lingle's solution to balancing the state budget by cutting the school year by 17 Fridays has now attained the level of a national scandal. An editorial in today's New York Times notes that "Hawaii has sacrificed its own schoolchildren" who are now "learning a terrible lesson in how little their government and teachers think an education is worth." A week ago, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in an opinion piece published in the Honolulu Advertiser that Lingle's "furlough Friday" plan was "inconceivable" and went on to note that Hawaii had already received $105 million in stimulus funds for education, and is scheduled to receive a total of more than $500 million for education. Today's NYT editorial notes that Hawaii "instead used the $105 million to cut its own contribution to education, which was legal but hardly admirable." I've been asking since June what Hawaii is doing with it's additional stimulus millions received for Medicaid. As of October 23, Hawaii has received $154 million that can't be spent on anything except Medicaid. The federal requirements for receiving Medicaid funds stipulated the money couldn't be put into any reserve or rainy day account. Hawaii's state medicaid director admitted the state used part of the money to pay back bills and put the rest into the general fund, but that was about $80 million ago. Every parent, caregiver and service provider in Hawaii that has any contact at all with the state's 'aged, blind and disabled' population can tell you that while these millions of tax-payer gift funds flowed into the state's bank accounts, Hawaii has been cutting Medicaid services by as much as 88%. These budget cuts are specifically targeted at the home and community-based services that enable our elderly, as well as adults and children with special health care needs, to remain at home with their loved ones. The cuts are being implemented by the two for-profit insurance companies that took over care of Hawaii's "aged, blind and disabled" population on February 1. We have the evidence to show that those two for-profit insurance companies are cutting services by means of constantly altering the scoring tools they use to qualify people for home services. A federal judge just stopped California from implementing Medicaid home services cuts because the scoring tools were being abused to the point of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and civil rights granted under the Olmstead Decision. Meanwhile, we've just realized that Hawaii's Department of Education may be in violation of federal Medicaid law as well. The reverse opt-out letter the department sent to parents in December 2008 does not appear to meet federal requirements for Medicaid billing. I asked my daughter's school system for an itemized accounting of what they had billed Medicaid on her behalf over the past year on Monday, October 19. I asked to receive it by Friday, October 23. As of today, I still don't have it. What's the hang-up? If records were being maintained the way federal Medicaid law requires, then it should have been a relatively simple matter of sort and print. In February of this year, the Hawaii state auditor's office "revealed an organizational culture of disregard for ...procurement laws and rules" in the DOE's procurement office. The report noted "that culture has allowed office directors, managers, and staff to believe they have the discretion to unilaterally determine whether compliance ... is in the best interest of the department." As the parent of a child with disabilities, my experience has shown that same culture of disregard for the law extends to most of the contacts I've had with employees of the Department of Education, Department of Health and Department of Human Services. I filed complaints against Hawaii with the DHHS Office for Civil Rights and the federal agency that regulates state Medicaid programs and spending (CMS) in July and August. I know that CMS has had extensive conversations with state employees, but illegal service cuts affecting children with disabilities were happening as recently as yesterday. Hawaii isn't just sacrificing it's schoolchildren, it's condemning its entire population of children and adults with special health care needs. Children's lives are, literally, being balanced against company profits while state and federal officials turn a blind eye. If federal officials like the Secretary of Education can't get the state to behave legally, who will? If the federal office that regulates Medicaid can't get the state to behave legally, who will? When regulation fails, how long before enforcement steps in? Do we really have to wait for a child to die?

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About Me

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I'm the mom of a child with disabilities. Hannah's first neurologist said she might never develop beyond the level of a 2 month old infant, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The brain damage was just too severe. Nine years later, she walks, uses a touchscreen computer and I've just been shown she can learn to construct sentences and do simple math with the right piece of technology. Along the way, I discovered I needed to teach myself what Hannah's rights to services really were. Learning about early intervention services led to reading about IDEA and then to EPSDT. I've been waiting for the Obama administration to realize the power and potential of EPSDT for the medical rights - including the right to stay at home with their families - of children with disabilities. The health reform people talk about long term care, and the disability people talk about education and employment, but nobody is talking about EPSDT. So I am.