By Kyle Hughes, NYSNYS News
ALBANY >> With the clock ticking on the budget due April 1, advocates and legislators on Monday called for the final spending plan to include help for programs benefiting disabled children.
The providers say that since the state Department of Health revamped the payment system that formerly was run by counties, payments from health insurance companies have been delayed for weeks and sometimes months. They want the state to take responsibility for billing and collection for services to children with autism, developmental disabilities or other serious conditions diagnosed when they are small.
“We have an early intervention program,” said Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg. “It’s helping very young children with disabilities be the best they can be for life. When we change the system so we can’t provide the services because we’re not funding providers, that makes no sense.”
“The worst thing you can say to a mom whose child is disabled (is), ‘We wished we had seen them earlier in their life, earlier in their cognitive development. We could have made more strides. Their outcomes might have changed,’” Tkaczyk said. “That’s not what we want to be doing here in New York state. We have to get this ship righted and back on the right track. … When you provide services, you should get paid for them.”
The one-house budgets passed earlier this month by the Assembly and Senate fixed the problems, advocates said, but so far, there is no sign the fix will be part of the final $142 billion spending plan now being drawn up behind closed doors by legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Advocates cited a survey of 96 agencies around the state that found that since the changes were made, a third of agencies have had payroll delays and two-thirds of agencies have reported children are being made to wait for services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy.
“Let’s put it simply,” said Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, D-Westchester County. “We had a system that was working. The health department broke it. The health department refuses to fix it, so now it is up to the Legislature to force them to fix it.
“As the father of a child who benefited from early intervention, I’ve seen how well that program works,” Abinanti added. “I’m really heartbroken that a lot of other kids are now being prevented from getting it. This is really about kids, but this state government has made it about money.”
The assemblyman said the cost of early intervention was $784 million in the 2005-06 budget year. Budget projections show the state will spend $558 million on the same program in 2014-15. “That’s a major major drop in expenditures at a time when the kids who need these services are increasing in number,” he said.
The state’s share of that cost has gone from $260 million to $163 million. “That’s what this is all about,” Abinanti said. “This is an attempt to save money by screwing up the system so kids can’t get into it so it doesn’t cost the state money. ... We have to make it clear to the governor that our kids are more important than this little bit of money in a multi-billion dollar budget.”