Sen. Charles Schumer has introduced Senate Bill 2427, the Disability Integration Act of 2015. If enacted, this bill would be like the Civil Rights Act for people threatened with placement in a nursing home. It would be a tremendous step forward in protecting the rights of persons with disabling conditions and implementing the guarantee of least-restrictive placement required by the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999). The court stated there that when an individual can receive appropriate care in a community setting and does not want to be placed in an institution, the state has an obligation, if the resources are available, to effect community placement.
Many persons with disabilities reside in nursing homes against their will because states do not have sufficient home- and community-based services (HCBS) to help them live safely and comfortably outside of long-term care facilities (LTCF). Every state has a “waiver” or HCBS program, but most of these programs are not sufficiently funded. The programs are called “waivers” because Medicaid funds were originally limited to care in LTCFs. The federal government set up HCBS funding to allow waiver of the limitation on the use of funds for care in LTCFs only.
Most states have waiting lists for waiver services due to lack of funding and eligibility constraints to restrict the applicant pool. Waiver services are typically less costly per recipient than care in an LTCF, but states and the federal government have been reluctant to expand waiver programs because the demand would be so high. Almost no aged person wants to be placed in a nursing home, but nearly every aged person who needs assistance or supervision would want to receive care at home. By limiting Medicaid to those who are in LTCFs, demand for services is greatly reduced. There is also an inflexible income cap for waiver services that bars medium-income applicants from qualifying.
Another reason government policymakers limit HCBS is that they see it as problematic administratively. It is more difficult to ensure that the services purchased are delivered properly when performed in homes than when delivered in facilities.
The Disability Integration Act would require states to offer HCBS as an alternative to care in a nursing home to nearly anyone who could be adequately cared for in the community. In brief, the Act provides:
No public entity or LTSS [long-term services and support] insurance provider shall deny an individual with an LTSS disability who is eligible for institutional placement, or otherwise discriminate against that individual in the provision of, community-based long-term services and supports that enable the individual to live in the community and lead an independent life. Disability Integration Act, § 4(a), SB 2427.
The Act continues for more than 6,000 words defining and prohibiting the various ways states, insurance companies, care providers and others might make it difficult for persons with disabilities to get HCBS instead of being institutionalized. Despite the incredible need for legislation to implement what the Supreme Court has ruled is necessary and the tremendous benefit HCBS provides in avoiding care in nursing homes, one would have to be an incorrigible optimist to expect this Congress to do the right thing – whether or not there is cost involved. One would also have to be a grinning naïf not to perceive that this is an election-year ploy.
The Special Needs Fairness Act, which would benefit many persons with disabilities at no cost to the government, has languished in Congress for over two years. This dampens any expectation that a needed reform will move forward. Despite the dim prospects for SB 2427, it is a very good piece of legislation. Please urge your federal legislators to sign on to the Disability Integraton Act of 2015.
John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2015 John B. Payne, Attorney