Monthly Archives: February 2009
Imagine you’re responsible for producing widgets for a manufacturing company where product demand has been stable for several years and that demand suddenly doubles. Now substitute a first time claim for unemployment in place of the fictitious widget, and you can begin to appreciate the challenges the Kansas Department of Labor (KDOL) is facing since a significant upturn in layoffs has hit Kansas workers. The agency received 37,482 first time claims for unemployment this past December, a 133% increase over the 16,071 first time claims for unemployment received in the previous month and an approximately 105% increase over the 18,212 first time claims received a year ago (in December 2007).
Not surprisingly, the agency initially struggled in processing the deluge. But KDOL has subsequently implemented a number of changes in its efforts to be more responsive
to Kansans filing unemployment claims. This has included the hiring of 30 additional Customer Service Representatives as well as extending hours of operation. Starting
Monday, February 9, the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Contact Center is now operating from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
on Saturdays. Claimants can also file their initial and weekly claims online at http://www.uibenefits.dol.ks.gov, Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is a
temporary change in hours to deal with the current influx of claims. Since implementing these changes, the UI Contact Center has doubled the number of calls it can handle in a day and average wait times have been cut in half.
KDOL has also undertaken significant changes for handling extended benefits by establishing a separate Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC08) Processing
Center to process all applications for extended benefits. In staffing the new center, the agency pulled employees throughout the agency who had past UI experience and
trained them to handle extended benefit applications. In the past 3 weeks, the KDOL has eliminated the backlog of EUC08 applications and is now processing applications
for extended benefits as they come in.
Even after adding staff and extending hours the telephone wait times can still be long. The agency recommends that first time claims be filed on-line. Once the initial claim is filed, then continuing weekly claims can be filed through a dedicated automated telephone system which is easier to use than the main Contact Center call line. It
is available Sunday – Midnight to 6 a.m. and Noon to Midnight; Monday – Anytime; Tuesday through Friday: 7 a.m. to Midnight; and Saturday – 9 a.m. to Midnight. You can reach the automated continuing weekly claim telephone system at one of the following phone numbers: Kansas City Weekly Claims Line – (913) 287-6913; Topeka Weekly Claims Line – (785) 296-4337; Wichita Weekly Claims Line – (316) 269-0633.
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One of the committees I serve on is the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance committee. Two weeks ago, our committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 12 (“Kate’s Law”) that, if enacted, would require private health insurance companies provide coverage for the diagnostic evaluation and treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for certain policyholder groups in Kansas. Both proponents and opponents testifying on the bill provided interesting and useful information.
More than 1.5 million Americans have ASD, with the disorder four times more likely to appear in males than females. Data from recent studies suggests that approximately one out of every 150 children suffers from ASD. Autism is the fastest-growing serous developmental disability in the United States estimated at an annual growth rate of 10 to 17 percent. It is now more prevalent than Downs’s syndrome, pediatric AIDS, and childhood cancers combined. In Kansas alone, the number of children with autism has increased by 236% from 1999 to 2006.
Much is still unknown about these disorders. There is no known cause or cure nor is there any known single effective treatment. Scientists are pursuing various theories, including studying links between heredity, genetics, and medical problems. Researchers have identified a pattern of autism in many families, further lending credence that there may in fact be a genetic link to the disorder.
Primary treatments for children with ASD include Applied Behavior Analysis, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy. Treatments are built around the child’s interests and a predictable schedule and serve as a regular reinforcement of behavior. Experts believe that the most effective treatment intervention 1) should begin as early as possible for a diagnosed child, 2) take place during a large portion of the child’s waking hours each day, 3) should continue over a period of two to four years, and 4) employ systematic methods of teaching where the easiest and most basic skills are first taught, building towards a progression of more complex skills.
Research data suggests that between 45 to 50 % of children receiving appropriate, early intervention treatments are able to enter elementary school and progress normally through the remainder of their education without costly special supports. The remaining 50 to 55% of children with autism require some special supports to progress through school; however, these supports cost significantly less than those for children that did not receive the early intervention. Not surprisingly, the cost of intervention treatments is not cheap. According to the Capitol Area Autism / Asperger Resource Center, the average cost of treatment to a family for a child with autism averages $40,000 per year.
Various health insurance and business groups testified against the bill. They stated their concerns that typical mandates such as those required by the bill could raise premiums anywhere from 1 to 3 %. They contend that for every percent increase in medical premium costs, approximately 5,500 Kansans lose all medical insurance coverage due to their employer dropping their medical coverage due to costs.
I’m sure each of us knows of at least one family with an autistic child. These families are financially struggling to provide their children with effective treatments so that they can someday lead more productive and happier lives. Regardless of whether or not the Legislature passes Senate Bill 12, our state and local governments, school districts, and economy are already paying the price for our autistic neighbors not getting access to these treatments when it could have made a significant difference in their lives. It’s now up to the legislature to determine when Kansans should starting paying for the costs associated with autism.