Home-care question will go to federal court

Budget: Gregoire says state can cut

Staff writerOctober 23, 2012 

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Monday she won’t appeal a 9th Circuit Court ruling that struck down budget cuts that reduced the number of in-home care hours available to Medicaid clients.

The 2010 cuts were challenged in court by 14 disabled people who saw a reduction in home-care assistance in March 2011.

Gregoire said in a statement that the state’s concerns – about being able to make Medicaid budget cuts without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act – were addressed in a Monday letter from the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.

“The letter today from HHS and the U.S. Department of Justice affirms that, with appropriate process, Washington state can reduce its service level and still be consistent with federal law,” Gregoire said. “Attorney General Rob McKenna and I agree that it is in the best interest of all citizens to return to the federal district court to obtain a final decision, rather than seek the review of the 9th Circuit’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court at this time.”

The case will return to U.S. district court for a final decision.

Service Employees International Union 775 Northwest had fought the cuts, filing suit along with the disabled parties. Its spokesman, Jackson Holtz, said the union looks “forward to working with the state to resolve the case in a manner that ensures quality care for people with disabilities and seniors.”

At issue in the case were the 6.3 percent across-the-board budget cuts Gregoire ordered in 2010 and that took effect in March last year. The cuts affected 47,000 people on Medicaid who received what are considered “optional” services that the state has elected to provide. The order meant many qualified for fewer hours of home-care assistance with washing, laundry, cooking and other chores.

After an adverse ruling earlier this year in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gregoire was considering an appeal on behalf of DSHS.

“Our concern from the beginning has been that the 9th Circuit’s opinion could be read to say that a state could not make even moderate reductions in its personal care services when it faces a budget crisis,” Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Robin Arnold-Williams said Monday in a statement.

Disability groups at the national and state level feared that an appeal could jeopardize the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Olmstead v. L.C. The 1999 decision enshrined the right of disabled people to receive services in a less restrictive setting than institutions – often with home-care help to make their in-home setups workable.

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