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Niagara spared woes of new state payment policy for preschool services

LOCKPORT – The impact of the state’s new policy of directly paying providers of preschool services, which has resulted in many not being paid, has been muted so far in Niagara County.

Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said last week that only 5 percent of the early intervention clients in the county are covered by private insurance, which was the subject of the state takeover.

Medicaid is the funding source for most of Niagara’s early intervention cases for children with developmental delays, Stapleton said, and that money is still flowing.

Lisa M. Chester, director of the county’s programs for children with special needs, said the counties used to pay the service providers up front and then go after the insurers for reimbursement.

Now the state Health Department is seeking payment from the insurance companies first, before sending anything to the providers.

“Once they took the financial responsibility away from counties, they found we were more successful in getting reimbursement from private insurers than they were,” Stapleton told the Board of Health last week.

“The state Department of Health overestimated their influence over third-party providers.”

Chester said that there is a waiting list for preschool physical therapy services in the county, but Stapleton said that this always has been a problem area in terms of finding enough providers.

Statewide, the failure to pay has hurt providers. Chester said a statewide survey showed 64 percent of providers are not taking on new children, and 62 percent have had trouble paying their bills. In addition, 49 percent said they are looking for other jobs outside of early intervention, and 25 percent already have found such jobs.

In other items at the Board of Health meeting:

• Director of Nursing Services Kathleen A. Cavagnaro said the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the county this year has reached 29, with no deaths, though all were hospitalized. The spike in the disease came in June with 16 cases.

• Environmental Health Director James J. Devald said 203,000 rabies vaccine baits were dropped from aircraft or spread by hand in late August. The county has had only one confirmed rabid animal this year, a bat in North Tonawanda.