RI Governor's DD Budget Would Add $8.7 Million in Medicaid Funding For Wages, Higher Costs

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s recently released budget proposal would add nearly $8.7 million in new funding to the system of privately-run services for adults with developmental disabilities in the next 17 months, through June 30, 2020.

Most of that overall $8.7-million-increase, $6.4 million in federal and state Medicaid money, would fund raises for workers of some three dozen private agencies that provide developmental disability services under contract with the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The raises would take effect July 1. Funding for the added wages - an estimated 44 cents an hour – is carved out in the budget bill for Fiscal Year 2020 that Raimondo has submitted to the General Assembly.

The budget bill also requires that almost $1.6 million in federal-state Medicaid funds be earmarked for technical assistance to private providers changing from segregated care to community-based, integrated service to comply with a 2014 federal consent decree.

The current overall spending level for developmental disabilities, $271.7 million, would increase to $273.1 million for the budget ending June 30. In the next fiscal cycle beginning July 1, the spending ceiling would rise to nearly $280.9 million, including federal, state and miscellaneous sources of revenue.

The Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) draws more than half the resources assigned to BHDDH – which is currently budgeted for a grand total of almost $422.5 million. Under Raimondo’s plan, the bottom line for the entire department would grow to about $448.5 million in Fiscal 2020 – an increase of $26 million, including about $19.7 million in supplemental funding for the existing budget.

Developmental disability services are financed through the federal-state Medicaid program, with the federal government paying nearly 53 cents on the dollar.

The governor’s executive summary, however, tends to focus on the state outlay alone. It says $3.1 million in state funds would be earmarked to cover an existing deficit and an additional $3.3 million would be set aside in the fiscal year beginning July 1 for increased caseload costs.

Those budget items, combined with the state’s share of the $6.4 million proposed wage increase - $3 million – add up to $9.4 million, nearly twice the overall $5 million in new state tax dollars that Raimondo would apply to developmental disabilities for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next one.

The state would have to use savings in other areas to fully fund Raimondo’s plan for developmental disabilities, but neither the budget language nor the governor’s narrative spells out which cost-cutting measures would fill the gap.

The first-quarter spending report for BHDDH put the projected deficit in developmental disabilities at a total of $7.6 million for the current fiscal year, including federal and state funding.

The updated report for the second quarter will not be ready until Jan. 31, according to BHDDH officials.

But at a recent press briefing on the budget, Rebeca Boss, the BHDDH director, said she is satisfied that the governor’s proposal will enable the department to balance its current budget.

Among other things, the plan would restore money in the current budget that the DDD otherwise would have saved if it had won federal approval for a “Health Home,” a Medicaid option featuring a managed-care approach that also provides for a third-party to coordinate services for individuals.

The Health Home would help DDD comply with a Medicaid rule for Home and Community Based Services which requires case management to be separate from funding or service delivery. Currently DDD is responsible both for funding and for case management, which Medicaid perceives as a conflict of interest.

Boss said BHDDH has not yet submitted an application for a Health Home option for developmental disabilities. The budget assumes that a health home plan for developmental disabilities will be approved and go into operation during Fiscal 2020, which begins July 1.

Medicaid will reimburse 90 percent of the state outlay for health homes for a maximum of two years. After that period, the reimbursement rate for health homes will drop back to the regular rate for Rhode Island, whatever it may be at that time..

To help close the current deficit, the governor recommended an additional $273,412 in state revenue for BHDDH to pay homemaker licensed practical nurses who work with adults with developmental disabilities. The Executive Office of Human Services granted them a slightly higher pay increase than BHDDH had budgeted and the General Assembly had approved.

In adding $3.3 million in state revenue for “caseload” expenditures for the 2020 fiscal year, Raimondo’s executive summary said she “accepts the Department’s (BHDDH’s) most up to date projections” on costs, “ensuring no changes to services for DD consumers and continued financing to improve achievement of consent decree mandated services.”

Last year at this time, Raimondo had proposed cutting a total of more than $18 million in federal-state funding from developmental disability services, with a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget saying the proposed reduction was based on calculations made from “estimated growth rates in the cost of providing services.” She did not elaborate.

Raimondo, pressed by the independent court monitor overseeing the implementation of a 2014 federal civil rights consent decree, eventually restored the funding and pledged the state’s support of the work ordered by the federal court.

The consent decree requires Rhode Island to correct violations of the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, reinforced by the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, by ending its over-reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day care.

This year, according to Boss, BHDDH submitted cost projections on the basis of actual claims, as directed by the Executive Office of Health And Human Services, rather than individual funding authorizations.

In the process of updating projections, the data was refined to remove claims that had been double-counted on Medicaid rolls of both BHDDH and EOHHS, according to the executive summary of the budget.

For Fiscal 2020, the governor’s budget summary highlighted three additional areas for savings:

  • ·A continuation of “residential rebalancing”, a multi-year effort to reduce the number of people in group homes, a cost-saving measure that also is intended to provide more “community-based placements such as shared living.” The budget projects $1.5 million in “residential rebalancing” in 2020.

  • Closure of one state-operated group home for an estimated savings of nearly $92,000. The staff in that location will move to other sites, reducing the need for overtime in the state-run system.

  • So-called “right sizing” of staffing at the state-run group home system to realize additional projected savings of $202,721. “Right-sizing” means staffing patterns will be reassessed and employees will re-bid jobs. This change is expected to reduce overnight staffing and further reduce overtime costs.

RI House Speaker And Senate President Both Support Higher Pay For DD Workers

By Gina Macris

The top two leaders in the Rhode Island General Assembly say they support the idea of increasing the pay of workers who provide services for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I am very supportive of the developmentally disabled community,” said House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, “and I believe those people who care for them should receive a rate increase. The House of Representatives will certainly strongly consider such a request in next year’s budget deliberations.”

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio is likewise supportive, a spokesman said.

“The Senate President supports increasing wages for providers of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Ruggerio’s spokesman said, adding that “Senator Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown) has provided extraordinary leadership on this issue, including a proposal to gradually increase wages for providers, and the Senate President supports his initiative.”

Whether Governor Raimondo will consider increasing funding for the private system of care for adults with developmental disabilities in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year remains to be seen. Her office has not responded to a Nov. 20 email seeking comment on possible pay increases.

Developmental Disability News asked the state’s leaders whether they would consider re-visiting reimbursement rates after Mark Podrazik, the president of the healthcare consulting firm Burns & Associates, told a Senate commission chaired by Senator DiPalma that a review of pay hikes is warranted.

DiPalma’s commission is studying the current fee-for- service system, called Project Sustainability, which Burns and Associates was instrumental in developing seven years ago. While the consultants took the lead in the project design, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) disregarded the actual reimbursement rates the firm proposed, instead reducing most of them by 17 to 19 percent before forwarding the final version of the plan to the General Assembly in the spring of 2011.

Burns & Associates recommends a rate overhaul once every five years, Podrazik told the commission Nov. 13. After nearly seven and a half years, “it’s past time,” he said.

Podrazik testified that Project Sustainability was shaped by the state’s drive to control costs, but by that measure, the system has failed.

The developmental disability budget repeatedly has run over the limits set by the General Assembly, and the gaps have only increased during the last few years as the U.S. District Court has enforced a federal civil rights agreement with the state that requires Rhode Island to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in their communities.

That approach, necessary to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, costs more than the reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day centers codified in Project Sustainability.

DiPalma, the chairman of the Project Sustainability commission, takes exception to a view that the developmental disability services program has been overspending.

“If the budget was unrealistic from the get-go, you’re going to exceed that budget,” he said at the commission meeting Nov. 13. He has studied developmental disability service budgets for ten years, he said, and none of them have been realistic.

Increasing wages for direct care workers “needs to become a priority” for a number of reasons, DiPalma said in a telephone interview. “If it’s a priority, we’ll find the money.”

In 2016, DiPalma called for a $15 hourly wage for direct care workers by July 1, 2021, but now he says “we need to get there faster.”

And he indicated he no longer believes $15 is enough. For example, Massachusetts, an easy commute from many places in Rhode Island, is already paying that amount to members of the Service Employees Union International who work with persons with disabilities. A bill signed by Governor Charles Baker in June put Massachusetts on a path to a $15 minimum wage in five years.

At one time, those who worked with adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges had full time jobs with benefits. But Project Sustainability resulted in drastic cuts to wages and benefits that destabilized the workforce, forcing many to leave the field or to take two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Turnover averages about one in three workers a year, and employers are unable to fill one in six jobs, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association. At the same time, the demands of the consent decree require more highly skilled staff.

Since July 1, 2016, the General Assembly has enacted two relatively small pay increases for direct care staff and their supervisors at private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities, but the average pay, $11.36 an hour, is still two dollars less than the hourly rate of $13.97 which Burns & Associates recommended in 2011.

RI DD Services Get A "Status Quo" Budget, But Can It Keep Up With Client Needs And Consent Decree?

By Gina Macris

With Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo signing the $9.6 billion budget bill into law June 22, the service system for adults with developmental disabilities averts a crisis in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and instead continues the status quo.

That is to say, the system is still struggling to meet the needs of some 4,000 Rhode Island adults with developmental disabilities, including those who are seeking services for the first time.

Higher-than-expected revenue estimates in May enabled the House and the Senate to restore a number of reductions in the human services which Raimondo had proposed in January, including about $18 million in developmental disabilities.  On June 20, the Senate ratified the House version of the budget and sent it to the governor.

Until the state’s intent to restore the funds for developmental disability services became clear in mid-May, an independent federal court monitor had been preparing to make recommendations to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. for an order to ensure adequate funding..

It was the second time since a federal civil rights consent decree was signed in 2014 that a court order, or the threat of one, has surfaced during the budget-making season at the State House. There’s no reason to believe that the monitor won’t re-visit that idea next year if funding for developmental disability services fails to keep pace with the stepped-up demands of the consent decree, which requires the state to shift from segregated services to those offering integrated, community-based opportunities by 2024.

One goal illustrates the challenges. The state is to have part-time jobs by Sept. 30 for all young adults who left high school between 2013 and 2016 and who who want to work, but with three months remaining until the deadline, those with jobs number 235, or 55 percent, of a population of 425, according to figures released last week.

The budget does include $1.5 million in technical assistance for private providers of developmental disability services trying to adjust to integrated services for clients, according to Carmela Corte, the chief financial officer of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). Those are federal-state Medicaid dollars that will be taken from the allocation for direct services.   

A relatively small number of adults with developmental disabilities who choose to use their funding authorizations from BHDDH for in-home care will be able to pay workers 10 percent more, which amounts to about $620,000 in the budget, Corte said.

By The Numbers 

The General Assembly also adjusted the current budget to close out the fiscal year, adding about $15.6 million to cover an operating deficit as recommended by Raimondo, who acknowledged the shortfall deficit as a one-time event.

The overall numbers in developmental disabilities:

  •     $272.1 million for Fiscal 2018, which ends June 30    
  • ·   $271.4 million for Fiscal 2019, which begins July 1

Administrators, however, tend to work on a day-to-day basis with an “operating budget,” which includes only federal and state Medicaid funds available for providing direct services.

For the current fiscal year, federal-state Medicaid dollars are budgeted at $269.8 million.  For the fiscal year beginning July 1, the federal-state Medicaid total is $269.2 million.

No Raises For Frontline Workers

One big-ticket item missing from the next budget is a pay increase for employees of private service providers who work directly with adults with developmental disabilities.  The underpaid workforce is sure to be a major issue for advocates when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Incremental raises for these workers during three budget cycles have allowed them to keep just ahead of the minimum wage, in a range which puts private service providers in competition with the same pool of workers as fast-food restaurants and other retail businesses. 

Including the most recent raises, in 2017, the average direct care worker is paid about $11.50 an hour. The minimum wage, which increased from $9.60 to $10.10 on Jan. 1, is due for another bump, to $10.50, on Jan. 1, 2019.

Before the General Assembly cut $26 million from the developmental disabilities budget in 2011, the average pay at some private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities averaged close to $15 an hour, with comprehensive health insurance and other benefits.  Career ladders afforded front-line workers opportunities for advancement.

Since then, the workforce has become unstable, with employers unable to fill one out of six jobs, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade organization. Turnover ranges from about 30 percent to about 75 percent, depending on the agency. In some cases, workers leave direct care work for other jobs with similar pay but much less responsibility. In other cases, they leave for the same type of work at better pay in Massachusetts, which is scheduled to offer a minimum of $15 an hour for such work July 1.

Budget Questions At Public Forum

The issue of worker pay surfaced at a public forum hosted by the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) June 18 at the University of Rhode Island, with one parent lamenting the lack raises in the year ahead.

Kerri Zanchi                         Photo By Anne Peters

Kerri Zanchi                         Photo By Anne Peters

Kerri Zanchi, Director of Developmental Disabilities, and other staff of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), explained various aspects of the budget and outlined initiatives intended to help the service system in the long run.

Asked whether the “status quo” funding approved by the General Assembly would result in cost overruns in the coming fiscal year, Zanchi didn’t say.  Instead she emphasized that DDD must use its data “every single month” to support its projections and “really understand what our needs are going to look like.”  

But BHDDH projections of need for developmental disability services don’t figure in the semi-annual Caseload Estimating Conference that comes up with figures for Medicaid entitlement costs.

And the state Budget Office does not take actual costs into account in making recommendations to the governor, a spokeswoman said earlier this year.  Rather it uses “estimated growth rates in the cost of providing services,” according to Brenna McCabe. She did not say who makes the estimates or otherwise elaborate.

The new budget doesn’t allow for increases in individual funding authorizations – one of the chief causes of the cost overruns which prompted the BHDDH request for additional funding in the budget cycle now winding down.

The governor cited higher “acuity” in acknowledging that increased per-person costs fueled a projected $15 million deficit in developmental disability costs in the fiscal year ending June 30. That factor, however, was ignored in her presentation of Fiscal 2019 budget that begins July 1.

Ever since November, 2016, there has been an upward trend in individual authorizations, something  that is expected to continue for several years, until all clients have been evaluated at least once using a revised standardized interview that is considered more accurate than the previous one. Both the original interview, called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), and the revised one, called the SIS-A, were developed by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  

Budget Language Opens Door To Innovation

The budget contains language that responds in to a variety of concerns about who manages resources available to adults with developmental disabilities and how providers are paid. 

It gives BHDDH the required state legislative authority to apply for a so-called “Health Home” and an “Alternate Payment Method” to create pilot programs for changes in case management and provider reimbursement better suited to integrated, community-based services that are tailored to individual preferences and needs, as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) hold that neither the states, as funding authorities, nor the services providers themselves can also be responsible for designing and managing individualized programs of activities without conflicts of interests.

States should have another disinterested party in the role of case manager, according to CMS.

The Health Home is the CMS name for the third-party case management organization that would oversee individual clients’ Medicaid and Medicare services, while the Alternate Payment Method allows states to explore changes to the usual fee-for-service reimbursement to private providers.

 Zanchi and Kimberly Reynolds, BHDDH administrator of financial management, explained the goals of the applications at the public forum June 18.

Reynolds described the Health Home as a “one-stop shop where individuals and families may get assistance in managing their services.  BHDDH has three health homes, mostly in the substance abuse and mental health areas.”

By way of background, Zanchi said that the idea for applying for a Health Home grew out of collective thinking in DDD during the last year about ways to put its clients in the driver’s seat in shaping their activities, or as she put it, developing “person-centered practice.”

For one thing, the system can’t be truly “person-centered” without case management that is free of conflicts of interest, Zanchi said.

She also said a pilot program for an Alternate Payment Method might generate solutions to problems faced by the current fee-for-service reimbursement system, which poses challenges to providers trying to get their clients into the community in meaningful ways.

The fee-for service system requires providers to bill in 15-minute increments, but only when a client is actually receiving services. It doesn’t allow providers to plan ahead, because reimbursement depends on day-to-day attendance at a particular activity, without exceptions for occasions such as client’s medical appointments, illnesses, or vacations.

As the state moves to a system with greater consumer control and consumer empowerment, Zanchi said, providers will need to be able to count on more staff to get their clients into the community.

Despite the consent decree, the reimbursement system is still geared to funding programs held in facilities like sheltered workshops and day centers, where one staff member can keep an eye on larger groups of individuals than is possible in the community.

Zanchi and Reynolds each said they want the public to participate in drawing up the applications for the Health Home and Alternate Payment Method.

“We have a lot of work to do in a very quick time frame, and like everything else we’ve done, we’re going to do it with our constituents,”  Zanchi said.

The state anticipates submitting the applications, receiving decisions, and beginning pilot programs by next Jan. 1, according to Zanchi. CMS would pay 90 cents on the dollar to support the pilot programs for a maximum of two years.

Flyers distributed at the meeting gave a schedule for public meetings on the applications, but the schedule was put on hold. Reynolds said she is the contact person for the Health Home. She can be reached at 401-462-3941 or at Kimberly.Reynolds@bhddh.ri.gov 

RI Direct Care Workers To See Raises in October Paychecks; Legislator Says They Deserve More

By Gina Macris

Raises for direct care workers in Rhode Island, including those who serve persons with developmental disabilities, are scheduled to show up in paychecks in October. But the increases are unlikely to fix problems caused by wages that many consider inadequate to stabilize a workforce plagued by high turnover, high vacancy rates, and high overtime. 

Even after receiving the pay hike, many workers will be forced to continue working second jobs to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, their employers will still have to scramble to fill vacancies, as Massachusetts prepares to pay $15 an hour for the same work beginning July 1, 2018.  Currently, one in six jobs goes unfilled, driving up overtime costs for developmental disability providers, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, (CPNRI), a trade association.  

Those who work with adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island make an average of $11.14 an hour, and an estimated increase of 42 cents would bring that hourly rate to $11.56. The exact increase is expected to vary from one agency to another, depending on benefits offered.

Unless the workers are single adults supporting only themselves, $11.56 an hour is not enough for a minimum subsistence wage – no restaurant meals, entertainment or savings accounts - that nevertheless avoids food stamps or other public assistance, according to the Living Wage Calculator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In Rhode Island, 41 percent of those working with adults with developmental disabilities have taken more than one job to make ends meet, according to CPNRI. The trade associaation presented figues to the General Assembly earlier this year that show 65 percent of direct care workers were heads of household in 2014, and 48 percent of them received public assistance between 2011 and 2013, the latest period for which data was available.

Entry-level positions for direct care positions at developmental disability service agencies generally hover a little above the minimum wage, currently $9.60 an hour. But the minimum wage is to get a 50-cent bump to $10.10 on Jan. 1 and another increase, to $10.50 an hour, on Jan. 1, 2019.

 In the current budget, $6.1 million in federal-state Medicaid dollars have been set aside for raises for those who provide direct care to adults with developmental disabilities, effective July 1.

Governor Raimondo also asked for a total of $5.2 million for increasing the pay of home health care aides, but the General Assembly delayed implementation of that raise until Oct. 1. House spokesman Larry Berman said that the way a similar increase was paid out to home care workers in 2016 made implementation problematic prior to Oct. 1 of the budget year and that issue was taken into account this year. The delayed implementation also saves more than $600,000 in state funds.  

Developmental disability service agencies also can expect to see higher reimbursement rates Oct. 1, but those increases will be retroactive to July 1, in accordance with language in the budget.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, who has led a call for improving the prospects of direct care workers, agreed that the direct care workers are treading water, in effect, relative to the minimum wage.  

He said he is well aware that raises enacted in 2016 and 2017 are not enough to compensate them for complex work that is often also physically demanding.

The new Amazon warehouse in Fall River is paying more than $12 an hour to start, he said.

In the fall of 2016, DiPalma launched a “15 in 5” campaign to increase pay of home health care aides and direct care workers to $15 an hour in five years – by July 1, 2021.

There appears to be broad sentiment in the legislature that direct care workers deserve better, judging from the number of bills introduced in the General Assembly earlier this year to speed up the climb to a $15 hourly rate. One measure, sponsored by the House Deputy Majority Leader, Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket, would have set Jan. 1 as the implementation date for a $15 hourly wage.

But the bills appear to have been more a gesture more than anything else.

DiPalma, first vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that the state’s finances cannot support that kind of a boost immediately.

The state faces the prospect of a $237 million deficit in the fiscal year that begins next July 1, according recent memos from the State Budget Officer, Thomas Mullaney, and the Senate Fiscal Advisor, Stephen Whitney. And that estimateddeficit does not include $25 million in unspecified savings which the state still must trim from the current budget. Jonathan Womer, Director of the Office of Management and Budget,  has expressed skepticism that all the cost-cutting assumptions in the enacted budget can be achieved.

Department heads preparing for the next budget cycle are being asked to cut expenditures by 10 percent, with one exception being entitlement programs, like the federal-state Medicaid program, which funds the pay for home health care aides and developmental disability workers, among many other services.