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Disabled children receive wheelchair funding 

By Jess Seabolt
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A bill that will give disabled children the chance to be more mobile will go into effect July 1.

Senate Bill 397 expands Medicaid to pay for specialized wheelchairs for children who are living in skilled nursing facilities - even if their conditions are unlikely to improve.

"Many require wheelchairs and we want these kids to be mobile," said Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, who sponsored the bill.

Medicaid provides payments for wheelchairs as part of its regular reimbursements to nursing facilities that serve disabled children. But they're not enough to pay for specialized chairs and for new ones as children grow older.

And under current rules, only children who can be rehabilitated - essentially those who will learn to walk again - can receive extra payments for special chairs. The new law removes that qualification and requires Medicaid to pay for the chairs for all children in the facilities.

Vince McGowen, who lobbied for the change in his former role as director of business development for Magnolia Health Systems, said the current law discriminated against children in nursing facilities.

"If they were in a community setting or at home or in a waiver setting - not in a licensed nursing facility - those exact same children would get chairs," McGowen said. "We said that's not right."

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, was visiting one of the Magnolia facilities - Especially Kids Health and Rehabilitation Center in Shelbyville - when she learned about the problem. That led her to author the bill.

"Now children can't be denied a specialized chair just because they won't be rehabilitated," McGowen said.

The Shelbyville facilitiy is in Eberhart's district as well. He said the children there deserve the same treatment any other in the state.

"It's all been positive," Eberhart said about the response to the bill. He said it's nice to see the General Assembly pass a bill that targets kids and helps kids.

A total of three nursing facilities in Indiana specialize in the care of severely disabled children. One more serves a large number of children, although it's not designated just for kids.

The bill is projected to cost the only about $39,000 more annually and about two-thirds of that cost would be paid by the federal government, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

"I would guess than in any given year, about 20 to 30 kids might benefit," McGowen said. "But it's meaningful to those 20 or 30 kids."

Jess Seabolt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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