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Rally underscores needed change in state disability spending

Last week, advocates of greater individual freedom for the disabled and for more efficient state spending descended on Baton Rouge in support of legislation that would accomplish both. Hopefully, the Legislature will pay close attention to their concerns.

The hundreds assembled argued mainly for passage of SB 537 by Sen. Sharon Weston Broome which would convert any savings that the state would get from closing either or both of state homes for the disabled to funding community-based waiver programs that would allow capable disabled individuals to live outside of nursing homes. But they just as easily could have been stumping for SB 415 by Sen. Tom Schedler which would create an independent living council that would propose policy to improve the opportunities of the disabled to live outside of institutions. Both these bills have yet to be scheduled for a Senate committee hearing.

Demand obviously is there as witnessed by the 14,768 people on waiting lists to obtain these services. For them, only two alternative exist – either they do without services and must depend upon family, friends, and other volunteers to care for them, or they are forced into nursing homes which is paid for in part by state funds that typically cost three times as much as would state money spent on the waivers.

Voluminous documentation exists proving that Louisiana spends too much on nursing home care and not enough on community- and home-based care, relative to the state’s demographics and in comparison to other state. While for some in nursing homes that is the only realistic option for them to receive adequate care (if the homes care to provide it), for many others community- and home-based care are more than adequate in their cases.

These bills – and the rejection SB 613 by Sen. Sherri Smith Cheek which seeks to make the present inequitable formula biased in favor of institutional care even harder to reform – would make excellent first steps to improving the quality of life for many disabled in the state and for the state to use its resources more wisely.

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