APD Wins Funding Lawsuit But Remains On Alert For More

Sep 13, 2013

Florida’s Agency for Persons With Disabilities has won a lawsuit challenging its budgeting process.

The Agency For Persons With Disabilities has a fixed amount of money it can dole out—and that money is used to fund support services those it serves to stay in their homes and with their families. The agency uses a system called the iBudget to allocate that cash. But it was challenged by a group of people who claimed the algorithm used to crunch the numbers was inaccurate. And Jim Freyvogel, a former agency official who now heads the MacDonald Training Center in Tampa, says what started as a noble attempt to find a fair way to allocate Medicaid dollars was corrupted:

“As implemented, it’s nothing more than a methodology employed by APD to ration services for the sole purpose of backing in to its legislative appropriation," he says.

Freyvogel’s main complaint with the iBudget is that it doesn’t treat people with the same disability equally. The system starts with a base funding number and then relies on individual assessments to move that number up or down. That means two people with the same disability can get different amounts of money. But APD Director Barbara Palmer says the system is supposed to work that way. Take her hypothetical example of Billy and Jane—two children with Cerebral Palsy:

 “Billy has two parents, both work, siblings are 16 and over who help out after school and they have many community supports. $30,000 is perfect to keep him out of an institution," Palmer explains. "But you take Jane over here, who has a single-parent mother working part-time, two siblings under six, and has her ailing mother with her who is dying.” 

While both children have the same disability, Jane would get more money. iBudget has been credited with helping the agency control its finances after years of deficits. Supporters say it’s helped them budget better, too.

“It means we know how much money we have each year, we know what her needs are, and we can budget that money according to her needs," says Lou Ogburn, chairwoman of the North Florida Family Care Council.

Ogburn  has a 48-year-old disabled daughter. She says iBudget is the best system the agency has used to allocate funding. For Ogburn the big allure is the flexibility—while funding may be less, there are no restrictions on which services can be used or when. Right now, the big issue facing Ogburn’s family is the need for a job coach for her daughter.

“Everything had to be pre-approved so far in advance and this just came up, and it needs to be done now. I can make that decision now that we can put this program in place—we don’t need it for long, it’s just a temporary transition.”  

Ogburn says she believes much of the criticism is born out of a fear of change. And agency director Barbara Palmer agrees. She says the agency has spent so much time fighting lawsuits, it’s hampered APD’s ability to do much else:

“Our core mission is to serve the people in the best possible way, not to spend our time in depositions—which is what some of our key players have had to do for weeks at a time. I get frustrated with that," she says, "because, I feel very passionately about putting this system together. I try to work with a sense of urgency, because if it were my child, I’d want someone to work with a sense of urgency for me too.” 

Attorneys for the group who brought the challenge say they haven’t decided whether to continue the legal fight.  Palmer says she’s expecting another lawsuit.

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