More than 1,400 Minnesotans with disabilities who had been stuck for months, even years, on a state waiting list for community services are finally getting help.

State officials disclosed in a report Monday that they have eliminated a long-standing waiting list for a coveted form of Medicaid assistance, known as a “waiver,” that helps people with disabilities pay for transportation, personal caregiving and other services so they can live more independently in their communities.

Since mid-2015, the number of people waiting for this help, known as the Community Access for Disability Inclusion (CADI) waiver, has been slashed from 1,420 to zero, as new funding and statewide reforms to disability services finally take hold.

“This is hugely important,” said Mary Tingerthal, chairwoman of a subcabinet appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to remove barriers to integration for persons with disabilities. “It gives hundreds of people the opportunity to receive services in the community.”

The state has been under heavy pressure from the courts to remove barriers to integration for people with disabilities. A Star Tribune story last year revealed that thousands of families across Minnesota were stuck on waiting lists for waivers — in some cases, for a decade or more — even as tens of millions of dollars set aside for that purpose went unspent by counties. In many cases, people with disabilities are unable to afford their own apartments or transportation to jobs without these cherished waivers.

Attorneys representing a group of people with disabilities in August 2015 filed a lawsuit alleging that the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) mismanaged more than $1 billion in Medicaid waiver funds over the past two decades. The department, the lawsuit contends, forced people onto waitlists for years without ever telling them that money was available to pay for services that would enable them to live more inclusive lives. That case is still pending before a federal court in St. Paul.

While hundreds of Minnesotans are still waiting for other waivers, the elimination of the CADI waiver waitlist marks a significant milestone in the state’s efforts to better manage Medicaid dollars. Last year, the Department of Human Services began to shift Medicaid money from counties that routinely underspent their allocations to counties with long waiting lists. That change, combined with increased funding approved by the Legislature in 2015, enabled the state to eliminate the CADI waitlist by Oct. 1. This was one of many goals laid out in Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan, a detailed blueprint for expanding community services for persons with disabilities.

In the 2015 fiscal year, about 18,000 Minnesotans benefited from the CADI waiver, receiving average monthly benefits of $3,036.

 

Twitter: @chrisserres