Lawmakers want to increase access to virtual services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

RICHMOND, Va. — New legislation aims to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities continue to access government services virtually.

The General Assembly last year established a task force under Bill 2197. The bill directed the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services and other stakeholders to consider the possibility to increase access to virtual Medicaid services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Some Medicaid services were temporarily moved online during the pandemic, but are now back in person. The task force was due to report its findings last fall, but two new bills extend that deadline to November 1.

House Bill 990 passed the House unanimously and was referred to a Senate committee. The Senate unanimously adopted a supplementary bill.

The Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services stopped allowing virtual visits last year. The bills aim to give people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the ability to access services virtually.

According to Tonya Milling, executive director of The Arc of Virginia, a nonprofit that advocates for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, support staff — like a case manager — could help those people pay their bills, plan meals or schedule appointments via a Zoom meeting. .

“We’ve all been having birthday parties on Zoom through COVID and all these different things with our families and such,” Milling said. “We recognize that you can do the same with people with disabilities who might be living alone.”

Of the. Chris S. Runion, R-Rockingham, said he introduced the House bill to help improve the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“How can we improve the lives of all citizens of the world? Runion said. “I just feel like that’s where my heart was drawn to help.”

Ashley Wright, lobbyist for advocacy group The Arc of Virginia, said people with intellectual and developmental disabilities needed specific support. Wright hopes the bill will pass, so lawmakers can continue to work on the recommendations.

“They want and deserve the same things we all have,” Wright said.

People with developmental and intellectual disabilities have benefited significantly from online support during the pandemic, Wright said in a follow-up email. These people will need access to these services even when the pandemic ends.

“This is critical to ensuring they are able to participate in their communities in the most inclusive way possible,” Wright said.

Reunion also introduced HB 991, which serves the same group, but the bills are independent of each other.

HB 991 would revise how three waivers, for “assistive technology, environmental modifications, and electronic home services,” are distributed. Each of these three waivers includes services subject to an annual cap of $5,000, according to Wright.

The bill would combine the three waivers to allow recipients to access $15,000 in funds at a time. This would allow recipients to afford services and modifications they otherwise couldn’t afford due to some services costing upwards of $5,000, according to Wright.

HB 991 was unanimously introduced in a House subcommittee, but a companion bill passed the Senate.

Capital News Service is a program of the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Perry A. Thomasson