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Public Interest Mean More Meetings Possible On Disability Program Changes

Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilties Director Barbara Palmer
Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities
The Florida Channel
Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilties Director Barbara Palmer

News Service of Florida

Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Barbara Palmer is considering holding a second public meeting on a redesign of the Medicaid home- and community-based waiver program known as the "iBudget," due to intense interest in the changes. 

A meeting held Wednesday in Tallahassee, which also was available via webinar, had been the only one scheduled for the public to attend. But because of the level of public interest in modifications to the program that serves 34,500 Floridians with disabilities, Palmer said additional sessions may be necessary.

“After hearing this, I think we need to,” Palmer said, following testimony at Wednesday’s meeting. “I think we need to consider more meetings."

In all, more than 850 people attended the meeting on the legislatively mandated redesign of the program, known as the “iBudget.” Sixty-one people packed into a small room at APD’s Tallahassee headquarters, and another 796 people tuned into the webinar at some point in the three-hour period, agency spokeswoman Melanie Etters said.

Some of the people who couldn’t squeeze into the public meeting room were directed to two smaller rooms where they could listen to the meeting. During a 15-minute break, Palmer asked those who had already testified to leave the main room, to make space for those in the overflow rooms.

This week’s meeting had been the only planned public event scheduled before a July 31 deadline for APD and the Agency for Health Care Administration to submit a progress report on the redesign of the program to the Legislature, Etters said.

The waiver program is designed to keep individuals with disabilities living in the community, but has been troubled by wait lists and deficits. During the legislative session that ended in May, lawmakers ordered the two state agencies to identify core services that are essential for client health and safety and to recommend elimination of other services that are too expensive.

While a new plan cannot be implemented without approval from the Legislature, it is being closely tracked by stakeholders, as evidenced by Wednesday’s turnout.

The agencies are required to submit a second progress report at the end of August and final recommendations on September 30. The two state agencies have held roughly 12 meetings on the redesign already, according to Palmer, who said the meetings were related to research.