MISSOULA – A $43 million Medicaid program is experiencing some changes in Montana which has advocates for people living with disabilities concerned.
The Big Sky Waiver is a Medicaid program intended to keep older people or those with disabilities in the community and out of a nursing home or assisted living facility if they don’t want to be there.
Waiver recipients have been telling MTN News that applications for equipment and services are now being denied for things they didn’t used to — things that threaten their ability to live in the community.
“So you can say, I have Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy…it’s really just a little difficulty with coordinating muscle tone and the actions that you want to perform. Otherwise, you’re just like any other kid, right?” Jenny Montgomery, who receives a Big Sky Waiver, asked her son Heath.
Heath uses adaptive devices to encourage his independence and get him out to have fun with other kids his age, including a tricycle that he got with Big Sky Waiver funding a couple years ago. Jenny says it’s important for his health now — and his future.
“It’s fantastic to see Heath out there biking with the other kids — or using his adaptive feeding robot — that we had to fight for this year. It just provides him with, not only a community experience and a social experience, but through this kind of adaptive technology, he understands ‘I can do things for myself’,” Jenny said.
“And I want him to grow up with the attitude that he can do things for himself, given the proper support, and he doesn’t need to wait for other people to do things for him,” Jenny added.
Recreational devices — like the bike for kids with disabilities — were cut from the contract this year even though they provide community integration, which is in the Big Sky Waiver contract.
These changes to the way people are experiencing the waiver administered — as well as formal changes to the contract — are causing concern.
“What we’re seeing here in Montana, with the pressure of the revenue cuts, are cuts especially to personal assistance services and a waiver budget that could bring a person with a severe disability into a situation where there isn’t enough home care,” Jenny said. “And therefore they are placed in an institution that they don’t want to be living in. And that’s obviously a human rights issue, that’s a constitutional issue of life and liberty.”
Losses to community integration aren’t just impacting people living with disabilities, according to Jenny.
“Community integration matters. And it doesn’t only matter for Heath. It matters for his peers, that they grow up around people with disability, that disability is normalized.”
MTN News will continue to look into what is going on with these waiver denials and why the state is funding institutions but cutting community-based care — as well as how people with disabilities are making it day-to-day despite the changes.
Reporting by Augusta McDonnell for MTN News