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Minnesota Makes Huge Shift for People With Disabilities on Waitlists

Minnesota has taken steps to remove long-standing barriers between hundreds of people with disabilities and the services they need.

Ever since state officials began putting pressure on counties to spend more of the annually-allocated money for a form of Medicaid assistance known as a waiver, hundreds of people formerly stuck on waiting lists are now seeing a change. A recent report showed about 1,100 people were moved off waitlists in the last nine months of 2015, cutting the overall backlog by 23 percent statewide, the Star Tribune reported.

“We are making great progress reducing the waiting lists and giving individuals and families more flexibility to receive services,” Alex Bartolic, disability services director at the state Department of Human Services said in a statement emailed to The Mighty. “This includes help with jobs, living  where they want and support for families which improves quality of life for people with disabilities. Increased funding  and authority from the 2015 Legislature and changes in the state Olmstead Plan for wait list urgency were drivers for this change.”

Changes began to take place after lawmakers passed legislation last spring that required counties to spend at least 97 percent of waiver funds, according to the AP. Another contributing factor was Minnesota loosening a requirement that counties had to reimburse the state for waiver funds that were overspent, which led to many counties conserving the waivers. The state’s Department of Human Services also began moving Medicaid waiver funds from counties that routinely underspent them to ones that had long waitlists.

Nationwide, an estimated 268,000 people are on waiting lists for home and community-based services, according Medicaid Waiver. As each state determines its own budget to be matched by the federal government, wait times and availability of resources vary from state to state. People wait for Medicaid Waivers for developmentally disabled programs for an average of almost three years, with some states having waitlists in excess of 10 years.

Around 4,000 people are still on the waiting list in Minnesota, but as these reforms take hold the number of people should continue to decrease, according to the Tribune.

State officials say as the full effect of recent reforms begins to be felt, the number of people waiting for waivers should continue to decline. The state’s Olmstead Plan, a detailed blueprint for expanding community services for people with disabilities, calls for eliminating the waitlist entirely for one of the state’s primary waivers by October.

We have absolutely turned the corner,” Mary Tingerthal, chair of the sub-cabinet appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to oversee implementation of the Olmstead Plan, told the Star Tribune. “For families who are planning for their loved ones, this will bring more certainty about being able to access services when they need them. It’s a really big change.”

Marty Ford, Senior Executive Officer of Public Policy at The Arc, an organization that “promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” told The Mighty that while this news is heartening, more change needs to occur.

“The progress being made in Minnesota should inspire other states to address backlogs in Medicaid waiting lists and to continue moving forward in helping people get the services they need,” Ford said in an email. “Much needs to be done to ensure that the tens of thousands of individuals on waiting lists across the country receive the benefits they so desperately need.”

For more information on Medicaid Waivers, including state-by-state eligibility information, go here