Richmond, Virginia (WRIC) – Thousands of Virginians with developmental disabilities need state assistance and are on a waiting list. Governor Glenn Youngkin hopes to clear the top priority backlog by the end of his term and have a significant impact on this budget cycle. At least one of his Senate Democrats thinks Youngkin’s goals are realistic.
According to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, there are 14,433 people on the waiting list for the Medicaid Developmental Disabilities Waiver. Of these, 3,199 are “Priority 1” and are expected to require service within a year.
As part of a broader plan to transform Virginia’s behavioral health system, Youngkin is proposing to fund an additional 500 DD waivers. This is in addition to the 600 additional quotas that the General Assembly has already approved in his fiscal year 2024 budget.
“Increased funding on this proposal will clear one-third of our backlog. We have achieved our goal of completely eliminating the waiting list for 2020,” Youngkin said at an event earlier this month. “We have to make this system work better.”
Lisa Smith’s 22-year-old daughter, Hailey, finally qualified for a waiver earlier this year. Smith said they signed up 14 years before her and spent at least three to four years on the priority 1 waiting list.
“It comes at a significant price,” Smith said. “It’s financially taxing. It’s emotionally taxing.”
Hailey has Dravet Syndrome, which causes uncontrollable seizures multiple times a day. Caring for her is a full-time job, Smith said, but prior to her DD exemption, she was only compensated for four hours of supervision each day.
“It was ridiculous,” said Smith. “She can’t tell her, can you schedule a seizure in this four-hour window for her?”
Now, Smith said, the state is paying for 16 hours of home care each day, alleviating stress and uncertainty about the future.
“We don’t want her in an institution. “I hope she doesn’t outlive us, but if she does, we know she is being cared for by this waiver.” I know.”
But Smith believes lawmakers should go further. She said the position funded by Haley’s waiver would pay $12.70 an hour with no profit.
“It’s very difficult to find people who are willing to work for that wage and have the necessary skills,” Smith said.
Democratic Senator George Barker, who has long grappled with the issue, said Youngkin’s goal of adding 500 more slots during the 2023 session was realistic.
“We did that and we may be able to do more,” Barker said. “It depends on the capabilities of the provider. So we will work on not giving people false hope.”
Barker said legislators have been unable to fund more slots in the past due to a shortage of providers. For example, the budget submitted by the Senate earlier this year included funding for 1,200 additional slots, but was cut to 600 in compromises.
Instead of adding more slots, lawmakers are focusing on increasing rewards and expanding the pool of providers, Barker said. He said it’s starting to pay off.
“I haven’t seen the numbers, but I’ve been talking to people and they’re saying they’re making progress and are getting more staff.
Barker said he wasn’t sure if there would be another effort to raise rates in the 2023 session.