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Plan to raise fees for parents of disabled children to get another look

Plan to raise fees for parents of disabled children to get another look

Dustin Hurst
February 1, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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February 1, 2010

A plan proposed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to raise fees on some parents of disabled children will get another look by the House Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday morning in what will most surely be a controversial and raucous meeting.

The changes proposed by the department deal with the Katie Beckett program, initiated during the Reagan administration, which allows children who have severe disabilities to remain in their home and receive in-home health services, which are typically paid for by the Medicaid programs.  Idaho has 2,150 children on the program, with each child receiving about $1,424 in aid, for a total cost of $37 million per year to the state.

Unlike many Medicaid programs, the Katie Beckett program has no cap on how much participants, or their parents, can make before being disqualified.  The new fee rules proposed will not change eligibility of the program, but will force higher income parents to begin paying a monthly payment to help offset the cost of the program.

The department determined that families making up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level will not be required to pay anything into the program.   From there, the department created a sliding fee in which the percentage paid to the state will increase as income increases.

For example, a family of four making $2,750 a month, or 150 percent of poverty level, will not have to contribute to the program.  A family of four making $10,000 a month, however, will be forced to pay $300 a month.  The cap for required payments from parents will be set at 5 percent of family income.   High-income families who pay into an insurance policy would receive a 25 percent discount on that payment required by Medicaid.

This is seen as a cost cutting measure for the state in a year with looming budget shortfalls.  According to Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a staunch advocate of the changes, this move by the department could save $200,000 a year.  The department itself recognizes that Medicaid is struggling and states must make changes to ensure the sustainability of the programs.

From the talking points released by the department to IdahoReporter.com:

  • “If we want Medicaid to be sustainable in the future, we are going to have to ask people with higher incomes to share a reasonable amount of the costs. This will help the state prioritize resources for the low-income people who need help most.”
  • “The whole idea behind the premiums is not to cause hardships for families, but to ask families with higher incomes to help pay for some of the public assistance they receive.”

When the measure is taken up by the committee Tuesday morning, it will be the third time in the last four legislative days the panel has taken up the issue.  The matter was initially heard last Thursday in a four-hour meeting, which brought many parents to the Statehouse asking lawmakers for mercy.  In that meeting, the panel voted 9-7 not to accept to the proposed fees increases.

Following the vote, Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said, via his Twitter account, that he was relieved the committee voted not to accept the rule change because he doesn’t believe in “the philosophy of balancing the budget on the backs of the disabled.”

Rep. McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, calls Durst’s comments “irresponsible,” and says the changes are simply “asking wealthy families that have means to pay some of the costs for the care of their children.”  She added that the Legislature needs to find places to cut and save money and those families with means should pay for some of the state services they receive.

The committee took up the matter again Friday morning in a meeting that had to be called into recess three times over procedure on the issue.  Due to regulations for the legislative process, the proposed rule changes were still before the panel because although they had not been accepted, they had not been rejected either.   Because the vote on the rule changes was not on the agenda for the day, several lawmakers, including Rep. Steve Thayn R-Emmett, and Rep. Durst, felt it was either illegal or unethical to vote on this issue.  Rep. Wood and Rep. McGeachin, pushed Chairman Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, to move ahead with the vote.  The committee overturned Block’s decision to hold the vote Friday, and instead moved the vote to Tuesday.

That meeting eventually ended with McGeachin and Wood storming out of the room over changes to a food stamp program.

The House Health and Welfare Committee will again take up the issue Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the lower east wing of the Statehouse.

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