2013-09-23 / Opinion

Guest Commentary

State Senator James Seward

SewardSewardThere are many government agencies and departments in the State of New York that play a role in our daily lives. The New York State Police Department helps protect us, the New York State Department of Transportation maintains our highways, and the Department of Environmental Conservation assists with conservation efforts. There are other programs that are extremely specific and while fewer people may be aware of them, they are just as important, if not more so. It is the latter type of program that I want to shed a light on.

The New York State Early Intervention Program is part of the national Early Intervention Program for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families and is administered by the New York State Department of Health. A variety of therapeutic and support services are offered to children under three years of age with a confirmed disability or established developmental delay. Services include: speech pathology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, family education and counseling, nursing services, assistive technology devices and services, and special instruction. These services make a positive difference in the lives of young people, and can help set them on a path toward future success.

The tremendous importance of the Early Intervention Program is why I am particularly bothered by a recently-created government hurdle that has placed services for hundreds of special needs children at risk.

As part of the 2012-13 state budget, a fiscal agent, or central statewide administrator, of the Early Intervention Program was approved with an eye toward mandate relief for counties which were then responsible for managing billing of the program. This proposal, which came from the governor, has great merits.

I am always in favor of government reform that reduces or eliminates mandates placed on counties. However, when the proposal was introduced, I expressed concern with the timeline associated with its implementation. Despite my concerns, officials with the Department of Health assured me that they would be ready to comply with the April 1, 2013 implementation deadline. Clearly, this has not been the case.

The rollout of the program has proved to be extremely problematic. I am hearing from many Early Intervention Program providers in my district who tell me that they have been waiting months to get reimbursed by the state for their services. As a result, providers are being forced to leave the program, resulting in hundreds of children being placed on waiting lists and missing out on life-changing services. Swift action must be taken to correct this detrimental situation.

The Department of Health recently announced a plan to “loan” providers 75 percent of their payments as a stop-gap measure. Providers are incredibly hesitant to accept this arrangement because they don’t want to be locked in. There is also no guarantee that the remaining 25 percent will be paid, nor is there any guarantee that the 75 percent won’t have to be repaid to the state at a future date should the provider leave the program.

I understand that many of the problems stem from difficulties in coordinating the computer billing systems between the insurance companies and the state. I appreciate the fact that discussions are underway between the Department of Health and the insurance companies to rectify this situation. However, in the meantime, the state should be reimbursing the providers 100 percent for their services and seeking recovery from the insurance companies afterwards. Early Intervention providers should not suffer financially for these problems which are beyond their control and young children in need should not go without help.

I have written to Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah to express these concerns and expect a prompt, positive solution. Young children suffering from developmental disabilities and their families already face demanding circumstances. Losing care, due to a government red tape quandary, is unacceptable.

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