Senate Holds Hearing on 15th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead Decision; Chairman Harkin Introduces the “Community Integration Act”

Last week, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on “Moving Toward Greater Community Inclusion – Olmstead at 15,” in recognition of the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s June 26, 1999 decision in Olmstead v. L.C. In its decision, the Supreme Court held that the unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities violates their civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Witnesses included Ricardo Thornton and Donna Thornton, two self-advocates from Washington, DC who have a long history of working closely with The Arc. The Thorntons shared their experience of living at DC’s former public institution for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – and subsequently leaving the institution, getting married, and raising a family together. Other witnesses included Emmanuel Smith, PABSS (Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security) Advocate, Disability Rights Iowa, Des Moines, IA; Norma Robertson-Dabrowski, Director of Nursing Home Transitions, Liberty Resources, Philadelphia, PA; Gail Godwin, Executive Director, Shared Support Maryland, Baltimore, MD; and Dr. Troy Justesen, Director of Public Policy, Utah Developmental Disabilities Council, Orangeville, UT. Visit the Committee web site to view video of the hearing and written testimony.

At the hearing, Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced his introduction of the Community Integration Act (S. 2515), to ensure “people with disabilities can choose to live in the community and receive the same supports and services they would receive in institutional settings.” As summarized in Chairman Harkin’s announcement, the Act would:

  • Eliminate the Nursing Home Bias in Medicaid by clearly allowing the provision of similar care or services in home- and community-based settings.
  • Prohibit states from making anyone ineligible for home- and community-based services based on a particular disability.
  • Require states that have found an individual to be eligible for nursing or institutional care to similarly find those same individuals to be eligible for care in home- and community-based settings.
  • Set clear requirements for states regarding the provision of services in home- and community-based settings.
  • Require annual reporting by states about the number of individuals with disabilities in institutional settings and the number that have been transitioned to home- and community-based settings.
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