While DDS plays with service standards and administration costs and other proposals from which the unforeseen consequences will outnumber the planned reforms by 1,000 to one, there are some foreseeable scenarios for which planning could mitigate harm and reduce costs. Here is my list:
Consolidation is inevitable. The cuts the governor has proposed are more than the system can bear, but even without further cuts, many agencies are now unsustainable and there will be further cuts. What's more, there is no likelihood that the cuts as proposed will be the cuts as experienced. Things intended no longer to be compensated will be paid for and things left protected will be cut. Agencies will reach the point that they are no longer large enough to justify management and those agencies will start to close. The clients served by those agencies will in most cases receive new supports from different agencies.
Barriers to sale or merger of existing agencies can be removed, allowing the clients to avoid interruption of important relationships and lowering the administrative burden on both regional centers and vendors from the reallocation of those clients. The alternative is the existing process which is needlessly traumatic for clients and staff and needlessly costly for agencies and the state.
The savings in the Bureau of State Audit reports are between the headlines: So far, trailer bill language coming from DDS seems focussed on the most lurid offenses the BSA found in its work. I can certainly agree that IRC's budget-padding ought to be cut off and extra funding for relatives of regional center employees ought to be cut off. But booking savings seems foolish. It strikes me unlikely that any new statute will prevent miscreants and thieves employed by regional centers from spending any new money in ways that their colleagues have been caught.
But between the headlines were examples of how regional centers may waste money in small ways every day. To someone working in this system, a family member of someone who is a client in this system, the anecdote of the regional center employees explaining a contracting decision with an undocumented, unexplained preference resonated with countless experiences repeated so regularly I'd stopped noticing until I saw it in print. The new trailer bill language regarding large contracts might have prevented one $950,000 absurdity but perhaps never another. Reviewing vendor selection by regional centers by sampling the tens of thousands of opportunities that arise each year to be unintentionally inefficient holds much more promise.
As someone who has encountered both wild bears and domestic termites, I assure my friends in Sacramento that common, small pests do much more damage than big rare ones.
Look differently at rates: One way this system was meant to be efficient was competition. The problem is that there has never been a good tool for regional centers to use to reliably (or semi-reliably) judge quality and rates are opaque, so whatever providers compete on the basis of, it isn't quality and it isn't cost.
This has a couple implications. First, rates should be public so that agencies can compete on that basis. Second, it means that for the most part, the state is paying whatever rate was given to whatever agency was chosen on whatever basis. In the short term, if further rate cuts are anticipated, given that the rates are close to random, it would be better to cap rates than to continue hurting the low cost providers by the same percentage as the expensive ones. The usual justification why the rate system is so irrational has always been that to rationalize it would cost some agencies and they'll fight the change. That's still true, but seems pretty important in the present circumstances.
But rates ought to public and regional centers and/or DDS ought to publish them. That will make it a little harder for regional centers to neglect that consideration and a little harder for high-cost vendors to hype their own costs. Furthermore, it would help in negotiations as the fear of being cheated could be as completely allayed as it is possible to allay that particular phobia.
Query to readers: What do you think DDS should be considering while they write the trailer bill language? (Leave a comment and then go tell them.)