The Department of Justice has filed suit against the State of Florida for warehousing kids with disabilities in nursing homes and keeping them isolated from their families and communities. The DOJ alleges that the heavy institutional bias of Florida’s Medicaid program violates the rights of these kids under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as articulated in the Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead ruling. The children in question have complex medical conditions and some rely on ventilators or feeding tubes.
The lawsuit shouldn’t come as a surprise to Florida officials. The DOJ has been warning the state for the past couple years that its segregation of kids with disabilities was a serious problem that could result in legal action. But Governor Rick Scott and his Tea Party allies in the legislature instead chose to refuse federal funds that would have helped these kids remain at home because they wanted to make a political statement about the Affordable Care Act. Florida also has not increased its reimbursement rates for home care services since 1987.
For people with disabilities, Florida and Minnesota might as well be different countries. It shouldn’t be this way, but our fragmented Medicaid system perpetuates these gross inequities. Perhaps this lawsuit and others like it will persuade state policymakers to reassess their priorities and work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that both kids and adults with disabilities can live and thrive in their communities.