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Kansas legislators to resume session, budget talks

John Milburn, Associated Press

Tom Laing, executive director of Interhab, which represents providers of services to the developmentally disabled, addresses a rally Wednesday, May 8, 2013, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Advocates are urging state officials to keep the current services system outside the state's overhauled Medicaid program. (AP Photo/John Milburn)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas legislators returned Wednesday to the Statehouse to resume the 2013 session, hoping to move closer to resolving differences over the $14.5 billion budget for 2014.

They were met by more than 1,000 advocates for the intellectually and developmentally disabled who rallied against folding services for disabled residents into the state's KanCare Medicaid system.

Advocates are concerned that services for the disabled would be reduced if folded in the new system administered by three health insurance companies. Gov. Sam Brownback's administration wants to put the services into KanCare starting in 2014. A pilot program is currently testing how the inclusion of the services works in KanCare on a limited basis.

The Republican governor is proposing to increase funding for services by $18.5 million, contending that continuing to keep developmental services apart from the KanCare system will result in higher costs for the state over the next two years.

Joe Cheray, mother of 13-year-old Topeka boy with cerebral palsy, said she was worried that Brownback's plan would mean the loss of the attendant care her son recently started receiving. She said having the care provider means that she is able to work on her social media company and be less reliant on others for financial help. The care attendant earns $9 an hour to stay with her son.

Cheray signed a 65-foot canvass banner hanging down the steps outside from Brownback's office, asking him to "Have a heart" and rethink his decision.

"This is too important. I'm doing this for my son, my family and my son's care attendant," Cheray said. "It's a real crap shoot. I don't know what Gov. Brownback is thinking."

Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said moving services for the developmentally disabled under KanCare was aimed at getting better health results for recipients. She said people would be able to keep their case managers and providers and that the KanCare managers couldn't arbitrarily decide to reduce services that recipients are eligible to receive.

De Rocha said the change would provide financial stability for system, as well as better coordinated care.

"There are no incentives for better (health) outcomes in the current system," she said.

Legislators have been on a monthlong break since April 5. House and Senate budget committees met briefly over the interim to review a new state revenue forecast and remaining budget issues. It was unclear how soon budget negotiations would resume.

Rep. Jerry Henry, an Atchison Democrat and member of the House budget negotiating team, said there were a lot of questions regarding changes to developmentally disabled services, adding that support was growing to extend the exclusion from the KanCare program for another year.

"It still could be discussed during the next 10 days, but why not let the pilot program come forward and see how it works," Henry said.

He said any budget decisions regarding social services or plans to cut higher education won't be resolved until legislators settled differences over taxes.

The House is proposing to cut higher education by 4 percent, while allowing the state sales tax rate slide from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent on July 1. The Senate proposes a 2-percent higher education cut, but would keep the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent.

Brownback's desire is to keep the sales tax rate at 6.3 percent and no cuts to higher education, having spent the past two weeks touring Kansas to build support for his position.