The briefs were filed as the department prepares to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 2010.
The briefs allege that public entities in both California and Illinois administer their health care systems for Medicaid-eligible individuals in a manner that violates the ADA and the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C. The Olmstead ruling requires states to eliminate unnecessary institutionalization of individuals with disabilities and provide those individuals with services in the most integrated setting appropriate. The department's briefs follow a series of recent filings in Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Georgia and Arkansas that demonstrate the administration's increased enforcement efforts following President Obama's proclamation of the "Year of Community Living."
"Unnecessary institutionalization deprives individuals of the opportunity to live their lives as they choose. We are working tirelessly to end the unjustified institutionalization of individuals with disabilities," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The department is committed to ensuring that community-based services are provided to enable individuals with disabilities to live fully integrated lives in their communities."
The Justice Department's brief in Napper v. County of Sacramento asserts that Sacramento County's redesign of its outpatient mental health service system puts thousands of Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program, recipients with mental illness at substantial risk of institutionalization in violation of Olmstead's community integration mandate. According to the brief, the plan proposed by the county will decrease the availability of necessary mental health outpatient services, putting plaintiffs at risk of entry into institutional settings. The brief also alleges that the time frame for the new system roll-out puts some persons at risk of institutionalization.
In Illinois, the Justice Department filed a brief in Hampe v. Hamos, supporting the plaintiffs' motion for class certification of a group of young adults with severe disabilities who have "aged out" of a Medicaid program which provides home and community-based services. Under the state regulatory scheme, Illinois restricts eligibility for this program to individuals under the age of 21. Because the adult program to which most of these individuals transfer has significant funding caps and does not provide community services at the same level, plaintiffs may be forced to enter institutions in order to receive the medical services they need to survive or to remain in their homes without adequate medical care. In its brief, the Justice Department states that certification of the proposed class is proper because class actions are an effective means of achieving the systemic reform that is necessary to address community integration claims.
The full and fair enforcement of the ADA and its community integration mandate is a major priority of the Civil Rights Division. During the past year, the department has filed briefs or filed suit in federal court in 18 different cases raising Olmstead issues.
People interested in finding out more about the ADA can call the Justice Department's toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383 (TTY), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov, where all relevant case filings can be found.