Parents worry over changes to special-needs program - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Parents worry over changes to special-needs program

January 25, 2006

Albany-- The cost of health care is a burden to many families. For families with special-needs children, the costs can be tremendous. A medicaid program in effect since the 1980's gave many families extra help to help care for their children. Some parents may now have to find other means.

The odds of being struck by lightning are one in millions, but one in only five people will have a disability in their lifetime. "Things like down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy," says Easter Seals Respite and Family Support Manager Nicki Wilson. The local Easter Seals office serves more than 1,800 special needs families. Many can't afford the medical care they need.

"Because they have a loved one with a disability, they end up living in poverty because a lot of them are dependent on disability income," says Wilson. Higher income families not dependent on disability income, depend on the Katie Beckett Medicaid program. It serves as supplemental insurance for many including the Salter family who has two special needs kids.

"There's just a lot of expenses involved with keeping them in the home. The Katie Beckett waiver has afforded us the luxury and the safety net to provide for them and keep them in the home," says Deborah Salter. But keeping them in the home may be more difficult with stricter eligibility requirements.

"The Georgia Medical Care Foundation had been using the adult level of care criteria instead of the pediatric level of care criteria," says Salter. 13-year-old Savannah has already been what the family considers wrongfully denied her annual renewal.

"If we lose the Katie Beckett waiver on Abigail, we'll also lose her nursing," says Salter. Combined, the two kids see 16 specialty pediatric physicians and need help from three homebound therapists on top of much needed medical equipment and care. Those things aren't affordable without the program.

"We're going to have to turn our kids over as wards of the state in hopes that they'll be able to get medically managed in an institutionalized environment," says Salter.

"These families need help too," says Wilson.

Families want the continued help of the Katie Beckett program to keep kids like Savannah and Abigail growing stronger in the comfort of home.

Since June, nearly 2,800 Georgia families applied to continue getting the benefits. Only 37 percent have been approved.

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