Florida Senate passes bill aiming to streamline medical services for disabled residents

By

Shane Ersland

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A bill that aims to streamline medical services for Floridians with disabilities was passed in the Senate on Wednesday, and now awaits votes in the House.

Lawmakers discussed Senate Bill 1758 during a Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs meeting on Jan. 23rd. The bill would appropriate nearly $39 million in recurring funds to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to offer waiver services to individuals who have been on a waitlist for iBudget services. SB 1758 sponsor Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-Sanford) noted that the bill would require the agency to develop and implement an online application process.

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“You would think in 2024 we’d have that, but we’re doing that now,” Brodeur said. “And (it) allows an applicant to review the status of their application to respond to any requested information they need to provide. It reduces the eligibility determination timeframes for specific individuals from 60 down to 45 days.”

SB 1758 would require individuals to be better informed of the Consumer-Directed Care (CDC) Plus program, a long-term care program alternative to the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid waiver, Brodeur said.

“(It) has more choice than the long-term care aspect of caregiving,” he said. “And it appropriates funding to serve the greatest need.”

The committee approved an amendment to the bill, which aligned it with the House’s version of the bill, Brodeur said. The amendment requires APD to offer care navigation services for clients.

“This will be a voluntary service that is meant to enhance service provisions for the clients. It also requires that (the Agency for Health Care Administration) and APD develop a comprehensive plan for the administration, finance, and delivery of the Medicaid waiver program. We know how tough it is when families are in crisis and have to deal with multiple agencies. This is asking the two most common ones that administer Medicaid and the one that administers persons with disabilities benefits to work together on a comprehensive plan for members.”

— Brodeur

David Brown, president and co-founder of Family Initiative, spoke in support of SB 1758.

“We provide support services for children, adolescents, and young adults diagnosed on the autism spectrum,” Brown said. “This is a phenomenal first step to provide a full continuum of care for individuals on the autism spectrum. To help their families navigate the transition from adolescence to young adulthood. It’s a great first step in making a better system.” 

Melissa Mazaeda, vice president at J&M Support Coordination Services, noted that everybody that will be on the waiver program will have to have a support coordinator, and there is currently a shortage of those workers. 

“That’s what I do,” Mazaeda said. “If we’re going to offer CDC services, that’s also what I do. There is a shortage of support coordinators and consumer-directed care consultants. So you can allocate as much money as you want to this program, but if there’s not enough of us to be able to provide services to the clients, it doesn’t make a difference. Everybody has to have a support coordinator or consumer directed care consultant.”

Sen. Lauren Book (D-Davie) asked Mazaeda if anything is currently being done to bring more support coordinators to the state.

“There isn’t really anything right now that’s being done to increase the roles. I had presented in front of a number of committees last year, and I’ve met with a number of you to let you know that there are issues with the amount of coordinators that are out there. And there’s nothing right now to help encourage that or make it a more robust field.”

— Mazaeda

Book asked Mazaeda what could be done to attract more support coordinators to the field.

“It’s not necessarily a matter of enticing,” Mazaeda said. “I’m very adept at being able to hire people for this position. The issue is the rate, and the fact that each support coordinator must have—at a minimum—90 days of a mentor. Every client that comes on to the program gets two support coordinators for the price of one. 

The rate (saw) a 10 percent increase last year, but it was on top of a rate that was from 1994. And there’s been a cost-of-living increase of 100 percent since then. So the numbers don’t add up for that to be able to increase the amount of support coordinators that are needed to take people off the waitlist.”

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