Disability Benefits Could Get Overhaul
Dec 22, 2008
Tampa Tribune–December 22, 2008
This year, more than 5,000 individuals and families filed appeals of reductions in their state benefits, which the Agency for Persons with Disabilities implemented at the direction of state lawmakers. In 2007 and 2008, the Legislature set spending caps and limited access to some kinds of care, largely because the agency was hemorrhaging money.
The Legislature also helped pay down the agency’s deficit, which topped $150 million in 2007. That deficit is down to $12 million, though it is expected to creep up to $17 million in 2009-10.
Underlying that progress is frustration and panic among the developmentally disabled and their caregivers. When the agency began notifying people about service reductions this year, about 5,400 filed appeals. Of those, APD has referred 700 cases to the Department of Administrative Hearings, which has just begun to set hearing dates. The remaining 4,700 will have 10 days to revise and refile their appeals.
Now APD director Jim DeBeaugrine is contemplating reworking the way his agency provides such services.
The current system assigns beneficiaries to four coverage “tiers” based on the severity of their needs; all but one has a spending cap. DeBeaugrine raised the prospect of setting fixed budgets for each beneficiary instead, based on a formal assessment of their needs and family circumstances.
That could mean throwing out the tiers altogether, he said, though that would be a decision for lawmakers.
The spending caps in the existing system affect about 7,500 people, he said. Fixing customized budgets for all 31,000 of the agency’s beneficiaries, he said, would create better cost controls.
Families, he said, would decide how to spend those dollars. “Lots of times, families know better which services they need than we do,” DeBeaugrine said.
The concept quickly drew interest from Republican senators on the Health Appropriations Committee, where the agency director raised the issue Wednesday. Chairman Durell Peaden, R-Crestview, lauded DeBeaugrine for his willingness to get creative.
But Sen. Nan Rich, vice-chairwoman of the committee, advised caution.
“That would be a huge overhaul,” said Rich, D-Sunrise. “I think that would take a tremendous amount of education to make it so that families would understand what their options were.
“I just don’t want us to jump into something without the proper research. We want to make sure we’re not turning the system upside down, just to get utilization of services under control.”