Urged By Protests, Governors Agree To Consider Community
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 20, 2004
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON--Disability rights activists who want states to spend more of their Medicaid long-term care dollars on community-based and in-home supports scored a victory this weekend, getting one governor's promise to bring the issue to the governors of all states.
The group of about 500 protesters from the nation-wide advocacy group ADAPT were in Seattle to draw public attention to the institutional bias in Medicaid, and to get members of the National Governors Association to endorse a resolution calling for Medicaid reform and support of legislation promoting community-based services.
The NGA was meeting at downtown Seattle's Westin Hotel to develop their 2005 congressional agenda, focusing specifically on issues -- including long-term health care -- related to the estimated 77 million Americans set to retire over the next decade.
Medicaid, a program that provides medical and health-care benefits to millions of people with low-incomes, is funded by both federal and state dollars. Governors can influence to a certain degree how that money is to be spent.
On Sunday, ADAPT members, many in wheelchairs, shut down traffic on the streets near the hotel to force a meeting with the governors to get their support. Five hours later, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell came out to speak to the crowd. Rendell agreed to introduce ADAPT's long-term care resolution to the NGA membership at its next meeting in February.
Other governors, including those from Mississippi, Kansas, and Montana, expressed interest in supporting the resolution, or at least learning more about it.
When asked about the effect the protesters had on him and other governors, Washington Governor Gary Locke replied, "We're aware of their issues. I'm proud that the state of Washington very much embraces (their issues) with the Olmstead decision, and giving seniors a choice so that not everybody goes into a nursing home. The disabled should not have to be institutionalized."
The Olmstead decision refers to a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which found that states violate the rights of people with disabilities when they "unnecessarily" institutionalize them. The states have moved at varied paces to implement changes needed to comply with the decision.
The activists also want the governors to support MiCASSA, the Medicaid Community Attendant Services and Supports Act. The measure, which has been held up in the U.S. Congress since it was first introduced in 1997, would allow long-term care recipients to use their Medicaid funds for community-based and in-home supports if they choose. Currently, 75 percent of Medicaid long-term care funds go toward nursing homes and other institutions. Although the NGA has supported many of the concepts behind MiCASSA, the governors have not yet endorsed the legislation.
During a Monday press conference, organizers announced a list of the twenty worst states in providing alternatives to nursing homes. Using three sources of public data, ADAPT named the five worst as Mississippi, Nevada, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Illinois.
"The governors of America should hang their heads in shame," said Stephanie Thomas an ADAPT organizer from Texas.
"When I was born, my family was urged to give me up; to put me in Fircrest," said Joelle Brouner, an organizer of Washington's newly-formed Evergreen ADAPT. "I am a living example, for the past thirty years I have enjoyed living in the community. To everyone out there in Seattle today I want you to know, that from womb to tomb, you have a place in the community."
The disability rights activists may also have won the media battle during the weekend. Local and regional television stations featured stories on the ADAPT protests, as did national radio news, local and national newspapers and wire services.
"Protesters for disabled block streets" (Seattle Times)
"Governors ponder how states can help aging Americans" (Associated Press via USA Today)
ADAPT Action Seattle July 17 - 21 (Free Our People)
"Home and Community Service Options Report on the Ten Worst States" (ADAPT)
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