Medicaid

Ask the Expert – John Harrison, Hickman & Lowder Co., LPA

Being a past conference speaker and member of the Milestones Board of Directors, John Harrison is no stranger to Milestones’ mission. As an attorney, he practices mostly elder and disability law at Hickman & Lowder Co., LPA. With his practice, John mostly assists seniors and people with disabilities, while also handling disputes in litigation, such as fights over guardianships or trusts.

This year, John is lending his expertise to educate conference attendees about the recent Medicaid waiver changes and how to navigate the new system.

So how did you get into elder and special needs law, John?
I have a hidden visual impairment which gives me a great deal of understanding of what it is like to be different and to face adversity. I’ve always had a strong desire to help. I did public service work with Disability Rights Ohio and Legal Aid. Eventually, I found myself in private practice helping people too.

We are so excited to have you back as a speaker this year! What do you enjoy most about being a part of the conference?
I really like the people the most. Everyone at Milestones is dedicated to this work and it’s reaching many families and providers who care about the special needs of individuals with autism and their loved ones!

Why is it important that law firms like Hickman & Lowder have a presence at events like the Milestones National Autism Conference?
Without information, there rarely can be a successful outcome. Hickman & Lowder, among other lawyers, are helping to advance knowledge and empower families to care for those they love who have very specialized needs. All of us are working together through Milestones to make our community a better, more inclusive place. I am hearing now we are helping people all over the country! It’s so great to be a part of this.

You assist families in navigating through a lot of the logistics that come with accessing government benefits. What would you say is the most common need from families who have a family member with autism?
This is a very broad and important question! Estate planning is often more complex for families with loved ones on the spectrum because a trust is needed. There can be a concern with accessing and keeping public benefits, including Medicaid and waivers. Often, there are concerns about decision-making and guardianship, or other decisions. We see issues involving education too, and sometimes there are even issues about medical care.

You’ve been a presenter at the Milestones Conference in the past and are returning this year with your session, “Something to Hold Onto: Keeping Your Medicaid Waiver Through System Changes.” There have been a lot of questions surrounding these recent changes to the waiver program and waitlist. Can you explain what a waiver is and describe this change in the waitlist status?
Hold onto your seats! Yes, there are many changes to the system. Generally, anyone who is otherwise eligible for Medicaid and who has serious care needs can receive this care in an institution. Examples of facilities are Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs) or nursing facilities. However, many people and their families prefer to live and work in a community setting. When we talk about a “waiver” in this context, we are saying that the state asked for and got permission from the federal government to provide services in the community rather than the institution.

There is a big caveat – services in a facility are a “right.” Services under a waiver are not guaranteed. The individual has to meet the terms of the particular waiver, and there must be an open waiver slot available.
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My Milestones: Past Conference Speaker & Exhibitor, Amanda Buzo

Amanda Buzo was a young lawyer starting her career in special needs estate planning when she first heard about Milestones.

In her interactions with clients, she kept coming across the organization’s name.

“Amazing resources! Invaluable tools! You have to go to the conference!”  her clients would tell her. Wanting to find out more, Amanda attended her first Milestones conference and was blown away.

“It was such a phenomenal event,” she says. “The environment was so positive and everyone was supportive of each other. It was very inspiring.”

Tell us about your first experience with Milestones.

I was an exhibitor at my very first conference in 2015. As an exhibitor, you’re on your feet all day and it can be very tiring. But the Milestones staff was very attentive and supportive, making sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed to make our experience a success.

Lauren (Daughtrey) introduced me to a board member and helped me make connections with the professional community. Milestones went out of their way to connect me, and as a result, I developed a lot of relationships with fellow exhibitors, conference attendees and the community. I had such a good experience that I wanted to be more involved.

How has Milestones helped you professionally?

Working with Milestones has given the Community Fund Management Foundation credibility and a seat at the table.

You are executive director at Community Fund Management Foundation. Tell us more about your organization.

We are a non-profit that establishes trusts for individuals with disabilities with money provided by the individuals or their families. We help families provide for a person’s needs in a way that helps safeguard their loved one’s eligibility for government benefits like Medicaid. We have 2,200 trusts in 82 of 88 counties in Ohio, which amount to about $93 million in assets. We have one of the largest pooled trusts in the US.
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