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Advocates for Disabled Protest

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Family members and caregivers of people with severe disabilities took to the street Friday to protest changes in a state Medicaid waiver program that they say will lead to funding and service cuts starting later this year.

Many of the approximately 50 people protesting outside a New Mexico Department of Health office in Albuquerque said a new evaluation process reclassifies people with severe disabilities in ways that will force them off support services they need.

About 3,600 disabled New Mexicans now receive Medicaid funding and services through the program, commonly call the “DD waiver.”

New Mexico Department of Health officials say the changes are intended to shorten the program’s waiting list of 6,000 people. Some families must wait a decade or longer to receive services.

“Our main message is, we’re realigning service so we can get people off the waiting list,” said Kenny Vigil, a Department of Health spokesman.

Camie Maloy, whose daughter is enrolled in the program, said she is skeptical the changes will shorten the DD waiver waiting list.

“I want to see written proof that cuts to the waiver will bring people off the waiting list,” Maloy said outside a Department of Health office at Central and San Mateo.

Dissatisfaction centers on a new evaluation process called the support intensity scale, or SIS, described by the agency as an assessment tool that measures the intensity of support required by a disabled person.

“I feel like I failed the SIS test,” said Pat Frye, the mother of a 50-year-old disabled man who was assigned to a support level that indicates he is high functioning and capable of living independently.

“Money doesn’t mean anything to him,” Frye said of her son. “He can’t shop or ride a bus. They said he can cook for himself and clean for himself, and he can’t do any of that.”

Frye said the support level assigned by the assessment process means that she will lose a $2,200-a-month stipend she now receives from the program as her son’s caretaker. She also fears that her son will lose therapeutic services for a compulsion disorder now covered by the program.

Health Department officials responded by e-mail that the stipend paid to caregivers will continue to be paid at the same rate.

“However, some people may not qualify for this service in the program,” Vigil wrote. “They will have an additional year to plan for transition into another type of DD waiver support.”

The changes also set up a new authorization process for determining the level of therapeutic services, Vigil wrote. “People who need therapy services will still receive those services.”

The new DD waiver system was approved last year by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and will take effect on Oct. 1, according to a letter posted July 13 on the Department of Health website. All clients must be enrolled in the new program by June 30, 2013, it said.
— This article appeared on page C3 of the Albuquerque Journal