So it looks like here in the United States, after what seems like a full century of arguing and revising and protesting and name calling, our legislature may actually pass a health care reform bill today. This is far from an unqualified victory – the bill is a very mixed bag from a number of viewpoints, and PWDs have both reasons to be happy and reasons to be upset. In other words, there’s not one “right” way to look at the bill from a disability rights perspective and people can still be committed to disability advocacy whether they love or hate this bill. (You’ll notice I cagily haven’t taken a position on the overall bill.)
There is one aspect of it that is very exciting, though, and has been the result of strong advocacy from ADAPT and the National Council on Independent Living: the Community First Choice Option. The CFC Option would give states the option to request federal funding to provide in-home assistance and support to PWDs. The goal of these programs is to facilitate PWDs staying in a community-based setting – living independently, with a partner, family, or other arrangement – rather than moving to a full-time care institution such as a nursing home.
PWDs would be able to access a variety of types of assistance, as ADAPT describes:
Services under this option would include services to assist individuals with activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), and health-related tasks through hands-on assistance, supervision, or cueing. ADLs include eating, toileting, grooming, dressing, bathing, and transferring. IADLs include meal planning and preparation; managing finances; shopping for food, clothing, and other essential items; performing essential household chores; communicating by phone and other media; and traveling around and participating in the community. Health-related tasks are defined as those tasks that can be delegated or assigned by licensed health-care professionals under state law to be performed by an attendant. Services also include assistance in learning the skills necessary for the individual to accomplish these tasks him/herself; back-up systems; and voluntary training on selection and management of attendants. Certain expenditures would be excluded, including room and board; services provided under IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act; assistive technology devices and services; durable medical equipment; and home modifications.
There is a similar program, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) currently existing in California that is based primarily on state funds that has proved a win for both PWDs and for state budgets. The benefits for PWDs are clear – they are allowed the dignity and independence of a community-based setting rather than needing to move to an institution for support. It has also benefited the state, however, because the average yearly cost per IHSS consumer is $10,000, compared to the $60,000-80,000 it would cost to institutionalize that person. Since Medicaid, the state and federally funded health insurance program for low-income folks, would bear the bulk of the cost of institutionalization, IHSS provides a significant cost savings. These are programs that do the right and moral thing by allowing a PWD to remain in the community while saving the state money at the same time – a win-win. For yet another win, family members of the PWD can sometimes be paid to serve as a caregiver, increasing income to the household to ameliorate the poverty disproportionately experienced by PWDs and their families.
Here are a couple of stories from IHSS consumers about how the program affects their lives:
Jill has had back surgery and 3 knee surgeries and is unable to stand for more than 20 minutes at a time. Her 11-year-old daughter has ADHD and needs to be watched at all times. The combination of dealing with knee and back pain, migraines one to three times a week and caring for her daughter Courtney leaves Jill unable to take care of certain household needs such as cooking and cleaning her home. Without IHSS services Child Protective Services might have placed her daughter Courtney in foster care.
Christie Ritter: On October 1st, 2002, I was stopped at a traffic light. It was my day off from being a respiratory care therapist in a hospital. I worked neonatal and pediatric specialty. I was sitting at the light, waiting for it to turn green, heard some screeching tires. Next thing you know, I have a car coming through my driver’s side door. Broke my neck and my lights went out. So when I woke up, found out my neck was broken and I’m a quadriplegic.
Jahad: Ritter has some movement in her arms and legs, but she can’t grip or hold things and she can’t hold herself up well enough to walk. Ritter fought for in-home care. And with therapy and assistance, she holds down a full time job and lives in her own home.
There are problems even with this portion of the bill – the availability of the optional federal funding has been delayed a year, and individual states can still opt not to administer the program. It is, however, a good and positive step in the right direction.