BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The Department of Health and Hospitals revealed how potential cuts would affect thousands of families who receive state help to care for disabled loved ones. The good news is that families currently receiving health care waivers will keep them. However, families on wait lists are not as lucky.
"It feels hopeless. It really feels hopeless," said parent Rebecca Ellis.
Ellis has attended every session since 2008, each time asking lawmakers for help. Her son is autistic, and has been on a waiting list for a health care waiver for nearly 10 years.
"It's really actually humiliating in a way to come here every year and beg for services, to beg for 200 slots when there are 13,000 people now waiting," said Ellis.
The DHH offers a variety of waivers that help families caring for medically or developmentally challenged loved ones. The demand for these waivers grows each year. DHH says the waiver programs have grown from 14,000 to 16,000 total families since 2008. However, each year only a few hundred spots in each category open up for new applicants, creating a lengthy wait list.
Now facing cuts, the wait is likely to get longer.
Federal requirements offer some protection for families currently receiving waivers. DHH Undersecretary Jeff Reynolds testified before lawmakers that any cuts to current waivers would likely result in a federal judge stepping in.
"If it's a choice where it's cheaper to provide services in the home than to have them in an institution, we have to provide those services," said Reynolds.
Reynolds says the proposed cuts from DHH do not affect families already receiving waivers, a relief to many parents who have been a constant presence at the Capital as lawmakers weighed cuts.
However, with money more scarce than ever, officials say it's likely no new applicants will be accepted for the next fiscal year. The move would save the department millions of dollars.
Ellis says the news is not unexpected, but she is beginning to wonder if her son will ever receive a waiver. Ellis is a single parent and while her son's condition is not life threatening, she says he needs constant assistance. For now, she leans on community and summer programs. But, at 11, her son is beginning to age out of many of those.
"Right now my family is holding it together. We've been holding it together for a long time and I'm not sure how much longer that's going to last," said Ellis.