March 7, 2010 - 12:00 am
CARSON CITY — Before the Legislature’s special session started 12 days ago, lawmakers expressed their outrage at a proposal to cut back on an item essential to the lives of those who are incontinent.
They painted a picture of older and disabled Nevadans walking around with soiled underwear, and exclaimed that they and the state’s taxpayers couldn’t permit this to happen.
They expressed their disgust about rationing diapers and making other proposed “ugly cuts” in social programs proposed by Gov. Jim Gibbons.
The governor’s plan to reduce the diaper allotment to 186 from 300 a month for Medicaid users became the cause celebre.
But very quietly, the cause to die for — died.
Unknown even to state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who at least twice since the session’s end has said the diaper ration was restored, the budget bill that contained the cutback was approved by legislators during the special session that adjourned early Monday.
Turns out, the situation wasn’t as bad as it looked.
Turns out, the diaper cutback would potentially affect only about 342 people, according to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services..
Turns out, these people can get more diapers if they’re really needed. All they have to do is contact their doctor.
“It sounds horrible what we did, but it will be monitored,” said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno. “There is a mechanism that if people need more, they can get more.”
She said legislators were convinced by Mike Willden, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, that reducing the diaper allowance was not as horrendous as it first seemed.
Once he told them that people who need more diapers can get them, Leslie said legislators agreed to the reduction. People who receive the diapers are elderly and disabled people on Medicaid, the free health care program for the poor.
Also, the Department of Health and Human Services said the 186-per-month diaper allotment meets national standards.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, called the diaper-cutting proposal a “beyond ugly” option at a Feb. 9 meeting when it was first identified as one of the reductions on Gibbons’ “ugly list” of cuts. She did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday.
Ben Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the diaper ration actually was reduced several months ago and the problem was blown out of portion by legislators and others.
Daniel Burns, Gibbons’ communications director, said if people need more than six diapers per day, then they should speak to their doctors and more will be provided. The diapers they receive are Depends. A box of 64 Depends for men can be purchased for $49.95. The new limit affects bed pads, too.
“They were receiving so many diapers that some were selling them,” Burns said. “Ten diapers per day was a very generous number. Six is more than enough for most people.”
While the diaper allocation was cut, Leslie said other items on the “ugly list” were restored. For example, the state will not deny poor and disabled people the dentures and eyeglasses they need.
In all, the Legislature approved $74 million in cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that provides mental health services, along with welfare and health care to qualified poor people.
That is a 5.6 percent reduction in state support.
In addition, $41 million in Fund for a Healthy Nevada and Public Health Trust funds that formerly went to the agency were used to cover the state budget shortfall.
“Certainly the cuts weren’t as bad as the original list,” said Charles Duarte, administrator of the Health Care Financing and Policy Division. “But we may be back given the state’s budget and the possibility of a future shortfall.”
For example, he said the Legislature found ways to restore a $1.50 per hour pay reduction proposed for personal care assistants, those who tend to the personal needs of disabled and elderly people.
At the same time, the state saved $834,271 by eliminating the purchases of disposable gloves for these attendants.
Only a handful of attendants, however, might have to buy gloves themselves. Most work for companies that are expected to buy the gloves they need, Duarte said.
Gibbons is expected Monday to sign the bill putting all the cuts into effect.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-687-3901.