By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Colorado’s notorious and seemingly endless waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities numbers at least 2,692 including 69 people who are in hospice care.
Gov. John Hickenlooper wants lawmakers to spend at least $13 million to begin reversing the backlog. Colorado lags behind most states on funding for the disabled. Hickenlooper’s proposal calls for covering all children whose families care for them in their homes and would chip away at the adult waiting list.
Budget analysts estimate there are 437 children waiting for services while the governor’s staff has estimated 576, projecting that an additional 139 will need services by the time next year’s budget goes into effect.
So far, lawmakers from key health committees on both sides of the aisle are indicating support to boost funding for the disabled after the economic downturn forced Colorado to cut spending on the disabled in recent years.
“I don’t know how we’re talking about any Medicaid expansion until we take care of our DD (developmentally disabled) community. This is our most vulnerable population. This must be a high priority,” said Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument. “I would urge, I would beg, I would ask to the degree that we can, that we fund even more than the governor has looked at.”
Stephens addressed her comments to members of the Joint Budget Committee who briefed members of both the Senate and House health committees at the Capitol last week.
She was not alone.
Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, said he hears complaints that the waiting list has grown to as many as 15,000 people.
“They wait for years and years and years,” Young said.
Other proponents for the disabled complain that the list has gotten so long that families and caretakers have simply lost hope.
JBC staffer Megan Davisson outlined total costs to cover all the people on the waiting list and pointed out that at any one time it’s a snapshot in time. Altogether, to provide services to all 2,692 on the list, Colorado would have to spend nearly $66.5 million. That would be matched by an equal amount from the federal government and is far more than the $13.6 million that the governor has proposed. Davisson will present funding recommendations to members of the JBC in early March.
The waiting list does not include people who dropped off out of frustration. In addition, those people on the list who are in hospice care have not necessarily been waiting so long that they are near death. Some may be young people who have waited a relatively short time, but are nonetheless in grave health.
Maryjo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which serves people with intellectual and physical disabilities, said that along with children, she worries about people on the waiting list who are over 50.
“A person over 50 is likely to be living with a caregiver significantly older than that. There are other older adults on the DD list who need services,” Rymer said.
She said she’s grateful that the budget proposals this year are larger than they have been in recent years.
“This investment is going to make a difference,” she said, noting that the more services children get when they are young, “the less they’ll need them as an adult.”
Rymer also said giving families more help with disabled children increases the chances that those children can stay with their parents.
“By taking care of the needs of those kids early on, I think you may see fewer children in the foster care system with developmental disabilities,” Rymer said.
Chris Collins, executive director for Alliance Colorado, a group that pushes for stronger community programs for people with developmental disabilities, said there is great need among the disabled and hope that Colorado will offer more help.
“We want to recognize that this is an outstanding year. We’re slowly in recovery. The governor has made it a priority to look at adding waiting list revenues,” Collins said. “Those waiting list resources will truly make a difference in people’s lives.”