By Mike Hyland, President and CEO
The end of the year tends to be a busy time. The holidays are upon us, there are seemingly endless tasks and errands, high school seniors are planning the next steps in their lives, and Old Man Winter makes his annual return. This is also the time of year when Congress tries to wrap up business. In 2017, that means tax reform, which we all know is an unfailingly complicated business. In addition, this year Congress will also take up the chore of confirming (or not) a new Secretary of Health and Human Services. With all due respect to the enormity of the work happening in Washington D.C., we should be careful to ensure we don’t leave people who need help, and those who provide that help, behind. In other words, let’s make sure we keep the promise.
It is most important that we remember that massive change has the potential to inflict unintended consequences on various groups. As such, our Congress has a responsibility to be sure that any legislation or action does not inadvertently harm people with disabilities or the professionals who work tirelessly to help them. The cost of providing quality services to people is not cheap, and it’s not supposed to be. An automobile with front and side airbags costs more than one with pillows stapled to the steering wheel because it’s safer for people, and that’s what provider agencies do: we keep people safe. Providing supports that allow people to live vibrant lives with dignity and choice is the minimum of what we should require as a society. And this is not just a responsibility at the national level either. Individual states must also ensure that we don’t lose the gains we’ve made over the years.
Massachusetts is one of a number of states now moving under the auspices of managed care entities the fiscal oversight responsibilities for many of the services provided to people with disabilities The goal of reducing redundancy through better coordination of care is appropriate and even admirable. That goal, however, is dwarfed by the responsibility to make sure that no one who currently receives community supports is forced to make do with less. We must take great care to guard against the pitfalls experienced in states such as Texas, where many severely disabled children have seen a horrifying reduction in vital services, or Kansas, where some families have been asked to sign blank treatment plans that ultimately called for drastic cuts to supports that keep loved ones in the community. Massachusetts has always been a compassionate leader in the provision of social services and that commitment must remain absolute in the face of any systemic changes that may take place
As politicians struggle with the need and pressure to reduce runaway costs in certain areas, they owe it to everyone who receives community based-supports to remember just what people with disabilities (and their families) were told to expect when such supports were moved out of institutions and into local communities. They were promised that people would be safe. That is a promise that needs to be kept. It’s everyone’s responsibility to see that it is.