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By Rose Hoban
Last week, the N.C. House of Representatives fast-tracked a bill fixing problems with group home funding through their chamber and sent the legislation on to the Senate.
So why has no one from the Senate filed a bill in their chamber to make a fix happen?
“There seems to be a lack of urgency on this problem in the Senate,” said Jennifer Mahan, director of advocacy and public policy for the Autism Society of North Carolina.
During last year’s session, state lawmakers changed the Medicaid rules for reimbursement for personal care services such as assistance with bathing, dressing and toileting. But those changes excluded residents in six-person group homes that serve people with mental health issues and developmental disabilities.
So in December, former-Gov. Bev Perdue moved around money within the Department of Health and Human Services to cover any funding shortfalls in group homes.
Group homes with residents who have been denied personal care services can appeal those denials to the state Office of Administrative Hearings. While those appeals are pending, the group homes can continue to get reimbursed at their old rate for as many as 90 days, explained Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Spruce Pine).
No group homes have yet asked for any money.
“We’ve heard that because group homes haven’t yet accessed those funds that were set aside for a temporary fix, that there’s no problem yet,” Mahan said. “We don’t believe that’s the case.”
Originally, Perdue and Health and Human Services officials said the money would be enough for one month, but with no appeals being filed the money is still intact and available.
Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Waxhaw) said that’s exactly why the Senate hasn’t moved yet on the bill.
“We’ll probably make some sort of change after they get through the appeals process or when they get into a situation where they’re not being paid so they don’t have to shut down and put people on the street,”Tucker said.
“I don’t suspect you’ll see a significant number of appeals [completed] by the end of February,” said Hise who talked about case overload in the Office of Administrative Hearings. “I don’t think there’s any indication they’ll be done within 90 days.”
“Then you have a lot of cases that will cycle – that the result of the appeal will be a new evaluation of the resident,” Hise said, noting that would continue the appeals process and probably buy even more time for group home residents.
Hise also expressed concern that many lawmakers were too new to get up to speed on such a complicated issue; 14 of the Senate’s 50 members are new to the chamber or the legislature.
“To take a new legislator and say here’s a complicated decision you need to make three days into the session, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Hise said.
Both Hise and Tucker said they’re confident no one will be harmed by the delay.
“Nobody, Republican or Democrat, wants to put anybody on the street, so we’ll move quickly if we get into an emergency situation,” Tucker said. “We’ll make it happen.”