Insurer promises grants to help disabled Kansans
OVERLAND PARK (AP) — Gov. Sam Brownback and United Healthcare launched a three-year, $1.5 million initiative Friday that's aimed at helping disabled Kansas residents find good jobs.
United Healthcare is pledging to provide grants to community groups serving the disabled, and the company announced the first five Friday, totaling nearly $264,000. Brownback joined Steve Nelson, the CEO of the United Healthcare division for state Medicaid programs, for a news conference on the University of Kansas campus in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park.
The first grants will help finance efforts to improve disabled Kansans' job skills, correct serious dental problems that hinder them in gaining jobs and educate employers. The initiative is called "Empower Kansans."
"Everybody has the ability to work, no matter how severe their disability is, even if they're non-verbal," said Brad Linnenkamp, who is training coordinator for the Lawrence-based Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas, has cerebral palsy and serves on a committee advising United Healthcare about the grants. "We can find things for people to do if we just continue to search and find out what people are good at."
United Healthcare's Community Plan of Kansas is one of three private health insurers managing most of the Kansas Medicaid program, which covers health care for the needy and disabled. Brownback's administration overhauled the $3 billion-a-year program — now renamed KanCare — in hopes of providing better-coordinated care while lowering overall costs.
The governor announced earlier this week that his administration will begin releasing funds more quickly than planned to remove 650 disabled Kansans from waiting lists for in-home services that help them live independently. Administration officials said the state can do so because it is seeing a "KanCare dividend."
Brownback said the overhaul was designed to focus on each participant as a "whole person."
As for the new initiative, Nelson said after the news conference: "Without KanCare, one, we wouldn't be having this conversation, and two, it opens up avenues to really put this whole person idea in play."
The largest of the first grants, almost $116,000, went to the Wichita-based Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation, which plans to use it to educate employers about tax incentives and a state law that gives companies a preference for state contracts if one-fifth or more of their workers are disabled. The foundation also will work on matching companies with workers.
Robert Hull, the foundation's vice president of research, said with the growth in costs in recent years, officials are seeing that social programs such as Medicaid aren't sustainable.
"One of the key answers is employment," he said. "People have to be out working to the degree that they can, adding their productivity to the country."
Another grant recipient, the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, will use its $44,000 to provide major dental work to disabled job seekers. Outreach coordinator Julie Laverack said problems such as missing teeth often cause employers not to hire people.