Thursday, July 3, 2014

PART ONE: Why are people with disabilities still demanding Civil Rights?

Sen. Harkin introduces the Community Integration Act to strengthen the ADA.

Sen. Harkin and Bob Kafka
Sen Harkin speaks with Bob Kafka of ADAPT
Last week Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa introduced the Community Integration Act to ensure that Americans with disabilities have the right to live at home with families and are not forced into expensive institutions by the federal Medicaid policy. A year ago the Senate HELP Committee released a report that found that despite the 1999 Olmstead decision that upheld the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act “integration mandate,” 75% of US states still spent a majority of their long term services and support funding on costly institutional care; segregating people with disabilities in facilities. Tennessee is one of those states.

The rewards for a state are large. The state of Arizona reported to Harkin’s Senate Committee that, since 1998, its “HCBS placement percentage has increased by over 30 percent, which has resulted in $300 million in savings.” Tennessee has had the most to benefit from cost-saving Home and Community based services because in the year following Olmstead, our state reported that 99.5% of Medicaid funding was channelled into facilities. Since Olmstead, Tennessee is one of only 5 states that was able to decrease its Medicaid nursing home expenditures.

Tennessee has begun to save state and federal funds but is still new to the cost-saving concept of alternatives to expensive institutions. The Nursing Home Industry, with a national lobby and federally supported facilities in every Tennessee county, is good at keeping the government funds flowing into their corporate pockets.

The money-savings seems to make the case to most people, however it is important to see the civil-rights perspective that disability rights activists have suggested for years and is at the heart of The Community Integration Act. Most Americans easily see segregation as discrimination. It is inconsistent with American values to isolate people because of a disability; to provide people with services only if they leave their home, family, work and community is anathema to our national commitment to civil rights.

Sen. Harkin talks with ADAPT members
Sen. Harkin talks with ADAPT members
The Memphis Center for Independent Living is working hard to make the choice to live in the community a reality for people with disabilities. Independent Living has been around longer than either the ADA or Olmstead, but supporting inclusion in civic life and community is even more essential now that individuals have realistic options to be part of everyday civic life.

The US Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead v. LC decision is the disability rights equivalent of Brown v. Board stating that unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities is a violation of the ADA. Olmstead did not outlaw or close expensive nursing homes but now, 15 years after Olmstead, over 60 percent of Medicaid Long-Term funding is spent on costly institutions and in Tennessee nearly 70 percent of our Medicaid Long-Term money goes to facilities.

A Medicaid bias in the federal program makes nursing home care a requirement for each US state, while cost-saving Home and Community based services are optional for each state. The Community Integration Act removes this bias and allows US states to provide services that citizens want and need.

PART TWO: The case for the Community Integration Act