Senator Harkin Wrong About Olmstead, Community Living, Choice

I originally posted this comment July 18, 2013 on this Disability Scoop article [here].  The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee report is linked within the article, or you can click here to access it.

Senator Harkin is a great advocate for the disabled, but in this report he is wrong. Wrong about what Olmstead means. Wrong about what many disabled people and their caregivers want. Olmstead is about choice. Harkin’s report is about eliminating choice – “…for virtually all people with disabilities, the most appropriate integrated setting is their own home.” This simply is not true for all persons with disabilities.

The most appropriate integrated setting is the setting a person with a disability freely chooses from the broadest spectrum of options. Period. This is what Olmstead concluded, and this is what federal and state policy should support. A person with a disability who is eligible for LTSS should be able to use those funds wherever the person chooses. Justification for funding and quality of life and quality of care has nothing to do with the setting…it has everything to do with the civil right of the person to choose their setting and how the setting is supported and operated.

Persons with disabilities can be just as isolated living alone in their own homes and victimized just as frequently (with no oversight or protections) as in any other setting. An individual apartment or home can have all the qualities of an “institution” as a badly-run state facility in Georgia. “Community” is what the disabled person decides for himself or herself, not what CMS or NCD or DoJ decide.

Even worse, “scattered-site” housing is discrimination…pure and simple. Segregating disabled persons from each other with separation rules and denial of funding is cruel and un-American.

Congressional hearings should be held to avoid the fast-tracking of Harkin’s recommendations, to give the broader population of disabled persons an opportunity to express their desires for choice, and to open the minds of federal and state agencies to achieve a fair outcome for all persons with disabilities.