Before suffering a traumatic brain injury four years ago when he was ejected from a crashed vehicle, Aaron Ellison was a second-grade teacher.
Now, the single father thinks about the better life he could provide for his 6-year-old daughter if lawmakers approve an increase in protected income for disabled Kansans.
Ellison joined advocates who gathered Monday at the Statehouse to raise awareness for the state's physically and intellectually disabled population as a legislative panel received updates on services provided through KanCare, as Medicaid is known in Kansas.
The advocates praised the willingness of lawmakers to make room in their budget proposals for an increase in monthly protected income for elderly and disabled Kansans who receive home and community-based care. As it stands, they would see an increase from $750 to $1,150 per month.
For Ellison, who lives in the southeast Kansas town of Columbus, the difference could mean buying his daughter a nice pair of tennis shoes, jeans that aren't stained or maybe even a toy.
“Just having a little bit of money to help with her would mean the world, you know?" Ellison said.
Heather Matty, a Johnson County resident who suffered a traumatic brain injury during a 2003 surgery to remove a tumor, directs one-third of her income toward medical bills.
Some physicians won't take Medicaid insurance, and some of the specialists she sees aren't covered.
An increase in monthly income, Matty said, would change her life "in so many ways. I wouldn’t have the stress every month of having to worry about how I’m going to pay my bills.”
Matty worked in social services before she was disabled. After her initial surgery, she was told she could never talk again. Now, thankful to be here, she speaks out for others with disabilities.
Many disabled residents can't even afford a place to live, she said. In some areas, there are waiting lists to get into subsidized housing.
“I advocate for a lot of people, and I want their voices to be heard," Matty said.
Amy Hyten, of the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, said increased income would be a game-changer for many of the center's clients.
“It means a lot of hard choices become easier," Hyten said. "You don’t have to decide between food and medicine.”
As the advocates gathered in the rotunda, lawmakers in a joint committee on KanCare oversight heard from organizations that expressed ongoing frustration with waiting lists for services, as well as state officials who provided updates on efforts to improve care.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has reached a deal with Maximus, the embattled KanCare clearinghouse, to extend a contract for 18 months while reducing the scope of work. Budget proposals call for KDHE to add employees as the agency takes over the handling of some eligibility applications.
KDHE will take over applications for elderly, disabled and long-term care patients starting Jan. 1, 2020. Maximus will continue to process family medical applications throughout 2020.
"I think it will rightsize what our outsourced contractor, Maximus, does that they are particularly good at and what I think we can continue to show incremental improvement on," said KDHE secretary Lee Norman.
Lawmakers will return in full on Wednesday to wrap up loose ends, including passage of a budget, consideration for veto overrides and the possibility of expanding Medicaid, which would bring an estimated 130,000 children and adults into the KanCare program, which currently serves 420,000. Norman said the agency will be ready if the Legislature passes expansion.
"It will be interesting to see what this next month holds for us in that regard," Norman said.