Indianapolis – A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit late yesterday sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and several plaintiffs with disabilities who challenged a state agency's changes to Indiana's Medicaid Waiver programs, changes that limit the ability of Hoosiers to become active members of their communities and, ultimately, put them at risk of losing their independence and being institutionalized.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: Facts in the case regarding treatment of people with disabilities "stick a knife in the state's argument"
The programs, which serve thousands of Hoosiers, offer services that enable people to live in their communities even though their disabling conditions would otherwise require that they be placed in an institution.
"The U.S. Supreme Court long ago recognized the harm that unnecessary segregation causes people with disabilities, and this harm exists whether they are segregated in a formal institution or in the restrictive environment of their own homes," said Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana senior staff attorney. "Right now, Indiana is not living up to its duties under the Americans with Disabilities Act or to its responsibilities to people in our society who truly need our help."
After the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration in late 2012 and early 2013 required Hoosiers on these programs to switch from one waiver program to another waiver program that provided fewer services, the plaintiffs lost much of their independence and were severely curtailed from participating in community activities such as eating in restaurants, shopping and attending day services. Plaintiffs are several Hoosiers with various physical and intellectual disabilities, including cerebral palsy and an individual with Down's syndrome.
The plaintiffs brought suit in 2013, arguing that their forced transition to a program that would not permit them meaningful access to the community violated the so-called "integration mandate" of the ADA, which requires that services be provided to them in the least restrictive setting appropriate. The ACLU of Indiana's appeal followed a district court judgment on June 9, 2015 in favor of the state.
In its reversal of the district court ruling, the Court held that the State "may not, by invoking the rules of its waiver program, limit qualified persons to only 12 hours in the community each week." It also held that the State may not limit services to an extent whereby people with disabilities are placed at risk of unnecessary institutionalization.
Chief Judge Diane Wood, writing for the three-judge panel that included Judge Michael Stephen Kanne and Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner, said that "Congress intended the ADA to 'provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." The Court also pointed out that Indiana's institutions are able to serve only a small fraction of people enrolled in its waiver programs.
The decision in the combined lawsuits, Karla Steimel, Thomas Maertz, et al., v. John J. Wernert, Secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, et al., Case No. 15-2377; Michael Beckem and Lois Beckem v. Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and John J. Wernert, Secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, Case No. 15-2377,was entered in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on May 10, 2016. On June 14, 2013, the ACLU of Indiana filed Karla Steimel, et al. v. Minott, et al., Case no. 1:13-cv-957-JMS-MJD, in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division.