Here’s the latest on what has been happening with ARChoices directly from our friends at Legal Aid:
(1) Second Legislative Hearing. When I last wrote, the Public Health committee of the legislature gave the RUGs algorithm an “unfavorable” review, meaning that the committee did not like it. The RUGs then went before the Rules and Regulations subcommittee. This subcommittee can only disapprove a regulation in narrow circumstances, so the RUGs was approved as a short-term measure to allow DHS to give attendant care to new applicants and to make new determinations for people up for reassessment. But, the chairperson said this:
The RUGs has not proven to be holistic in assessing the needs of the patients. Your presence here today has not fallen on deaf ears and, moving forward, because of your intense pressure, it is duly noted that RUGs is not the system we want serving the needs of Arkansans with disabilities. I believe it would be fair to say that you have the attention and the ears of the legislative branch to assure that your needs are moving forward. While we may not agree 100% on everything, the one thing we know is we can’t stay where we are. And while this process continues out after we do our duty today, then we will work to make sure that we don’t revisit this chapter again.
Even though RUGs was approved, the statement is great news for people hurt by the RUGs. Even if RUGs comes back in the short-term (it might not; see below for updates on the court case), it looks like the legislature won’t allow it to go on beyond December or early 2019. And, the public, media, and legislature will all take a close look at whatever new system DHS eventually comes up with. Personally, it was especially inspiring to see all the people most affected and their families come out and speak at the public forums or at the legislature, offer written comments, and lead the public effort (Legal Aid didn’t organize it). And, this would not have happened without all the thoughtful and caring providers and other advocates who stepped up. It’s been wonderful to work with everyone.
(2) New System. DHS kept talking about a new system it would implement as of 1/1/19. DHS said that it would start the public comment process on 10/1/18. As of today, nothing has been published about it. Legal Aid will let everyone know when the official proposed rule comes out. The unofficial drafts we’ve seen suggest that it might be easier to understand than RUGs, but the unofficial drafts make it seem unlikely the new system will offer enough care hours for the patients with the highest needs.
(3) Court Case. Because the legislature approved the RUGs, DHS was going to start using it again as of yesterday. DHS asked the court to remove the injunction that stops them from doing that. DHS claims that it followed the proper process to adopt the rule. Today, Legal Aid, on behalf of our plaintiffs, filed an objection and asked the judge to keep the injunction in place (it is attached if you want to read the full legal document). DHS’s public comment process appears to be a sham. 43 different people criticized the RUGs for allowing inadequate care and not taking into account a nurse or doctor opinion in making hour determinations. They offered concrete ideas about alternatives. DHS didn’t even try to address the criticisms or alternatives, which the law requires it to do. Only 1 person was fully supportive of RUGs.
Our filing means that people who have applied for ARChoices services may be further delayed in getting them. DHS keeps saying that it has no lawful way to allocate attendant care, but we disagree and keep arguing that DHS can use the system of nurse discretion in place before RUGs. We are very sympathetic to the people who are waiting on services and understand they are caught up in this. However, Legal Aid has a duty to serve our clients. All of our plaintiffs (and many other clients) have been cut by the RUGs in the past. And, because DHS hasn’t been able to re-assess them for two years, they could be first in line for re-assessment. We tried to negotiate with DHS to get a formal, written agreement to ensure our clients would be safe, but DHS would not do anything formal. We had to file this objection to try to protect our plaintiffs. We have another legal case pending that could get the assessments and allocations started again with nurse discretion and will continue pursuing that option.
Kevin De Liban, Attorney
Economic Justice Practice Group Leader
Legal Aid of Arkansas–West Memphis
310 Mid-Continent Plaza, Suite 420
West Memphis, AR 72301
Phone: (870) 732-6370 x. 2206