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08-11-04 Local MR/DD boards expect delayed money

By Lance Mihm

  Local county boards of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD) expect to get state money within the next 30-60 days for service fees that have been held up by legislation and a court decision.

  Several county MR/DD boards across the state ran into financial trouble during the last several months after board officials in Delaware County challenged a new Community Alternative Funding System (CAFS) fee schedule as a result of House Bill 94's Medicaid reform in court.
  The new fee schedule came as an unintended consequence of the legislation to make more federal money available for developmentally disabled people.
  County boards often contract privately for certain services based on competitive rates. If state officials disagreed with the charges, costs were settled after the fact through adjusting Medicaid payments.
  In the bill a firm fee schedule was set for these services throughout the state, eliminating the competitive system. The new system would have forced some counties to pay larger amounts of money. Many boards would end up owing more than they budgeted.  "You pay a lot more for services in Franklin County than you would in Auglaize County," Superintendent Al Willis said. "For example, if we were paying $35 for speech therapy services, it would have went up to $85 with the new legislation. When we reconciled our books at the end of the year, the feds would want their money back."
  The judge in the Delaware County case put a stop on all CAFS payments, and money stopped coming in to county boards in March. The money put several boards in financial trouble.
  "There were about 43 counties on the verge of bankruptcy because of it," Willis said.
  Under new legislation, each county will adopt fee schedules based on actual cost sent to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services in each county. The department serves as Medicaid agents to the MR/DD boards.
  Willis said the problem caused varying degrees of problems for each county.
  "Luckily, the way we do our budget, we are not as dependent on the CAFS money as some," Willis said. "There are some boards that are in a serious financial crisis."
  Willis estimated that Auglaize County was about $200,000 short in CAFS payments since March. The board saw their cash balance dwindle to as low as $16,000 for a short time in June. Board financial director Todd Busse said the balance is now looking better at about $1.5 million after tax levy funds came in Aug. 4.
  Mercer County MR/DD Superintendent Mike Overman said his program's finances dropped even lower than in Auglaize in June. Mercer County Commissioners extended a financial safety net by granting the program an advance on its second half property tax collections.
  Mercer County MR/DD officials believe they are owed at least $1 million in CAFS payments from 2003 and this year, Overman said.
  -- Staff writer Timothy Cox contributed to this story.


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