Medicaid Reforms Up For Debate

July 12, 2011 | By Karen Poch

Since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 (and its numerous amendments), talk in the disabled community has centered around independence, empowerment and ability.  In the private sector, Walmart and Goodwill were among the first organizations to be honored for hiring people with disabilities to work in their stores.  Universities including Towson and Pace University have nationally-renowned degree programs for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Now the conversation has turned to government support. 

In an effort to trim the nation’s budget deficit, major reductions to Medicaid are on the table.  To help deal with the potential cuts, many are advocating for greater financial support for community-based services rather than funding for expensive private institutions.  Its not hard to see why: these institutions can cost near $137,000 a year to serve a person with an intellectual disability, while assisting the same person with community-based services requires on average only $44,000 a year. 

Lawmakers have set out a warning, “If Medicaid cuts are not done in a thoughtful manner, however, they will have disastrous consequences and will lead to systemic civil rights violations” according to an op-ed in the Capital Hill newspaper The Hill.  Many of the current policies are financially short-sighted, and indirectly forcing people with disabilities to remain in nursing homes and institutions.  This potentially violates the decision in 1999 Supreme Court Case, Olmstead vs. L.C. that unnecessarily placing people with disabilities in institutions is considered discrimination.  Instead, providing education-to-job transition training, independent living supports, enhancing accessibliity through wheelchair lifts, and putting in place legislation that protects the workplace rights for the disabled will empower individuals to engage with the community, increasing quality of living.

Revising Medicaid and reallocating funds presents opportunity to increase independent living and community engagement through employment for those with disabilities.  However, with these revisions, greater supports will need to be put in place.  On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor released record statistics for June 2011 unemployment rates.  It shows unemployment rates for non-institutionalized people with disabilities at 16.9%, almost twice the national average for non-disabled peers. This is equal to the record high for disabled unemployment set in August 2009.  The US Equal Employment Opportunity Coalition took an important step in March to include people with “invisible disabilities” under workplace protections outlined in ADA.  Make sure to stay updated on the latest legislative developments and Medicaid news as change continues.

Author Bio

As a former educator for students with severe developmental disabilities, Karen Poch has a special passion for disability awareness and equality. She is proud to be a contributing blog writer for Handi-Lift, an organization whose shared mission is Accessibility with Dignity.