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Disability Advocates Criticize Governor's Budget

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Under the governor's worse-case-scenario-budget the disabled would lose essential equipment like wheelchairs and oxygen tanks. They're called optional benefits - that means under federal law the state is not required to cover them.  
Dave Johnson is standing in the physical therapy room at Health for All Adult Day Health Care in Sacramento.

"There's Ida doing the stationary…hello…bike, and there's Lodene doing the parallel bars."
He's the program director at the center. About 70 people with disabilities spend their days here and get services paid for by the state.

Down the hall in the activity room people are drawing and playing board games. Among them is Pam Biggs who is finishing her breakfast. She's 54 and uses a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis.
"Everything I do I want to walk, so I can't walk anymore, so I use a chair."
Under the governor's plan the state would eliminate coverage for Biggs's wheelchair. And for thousands more on the state's Medi-Cal program for the poor. Other benefits on the chopping block: bed lifts, physical therapy and prosthetics. Schwarzenegger also wants to eliminate the state's more than 300 Adult Day Health Care centers - like this one. They serve about 45,000 people with disabilities. Johnson says if that happens many of his clients will have to find somewhere else to go.
"At least half of these folks, their families couldn't take care of them full time and given their health conditions more than likely they would be in a higher level of care, an institutional setting, such as a skilled nursing facility."

The state's facing a $20 billion budget shortfall. Toby Douglas is the chief deputy director of California's Department of Health Care Services. He says if billions of dollars in federal funding don't come through the state will have to find money elsewhere. Douglas says eliminating the Adult Day Health Care centers would save more than $100 million alone. Getting rid of the other optional benefits - like the wheelchairs and physical therapy - would save more than $40 million.
Douglas: "The benefits are not optional for the people that use them, they're essential. But from a financial stand point if we aren't given the federal relief our resort will have to be to look at ways that we can control costs."
Doctor: "The cost savings that they're projecting don't reflect the cost increase by people going to not only to nursing homes but to Emergency Rooms."
That's Deborah Doctor with the advocacy group Disability Rights California. She says it's ironic that these cuts would actually force many in to nursing homes. The state's own numbers show that on average it costs twice as much to pay for nursing home care than Adult Day Health Care services. Plus she says the cuts can be challenged in court.
"There is a right under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court Decision that we call Olmstead, for people to remain in their homes with services."

Last year a federal judge suspended California budget cuts to Adult Day Health Care. Doctor says the court recognized these benefits could mean life or death for the disabled.
"To take away the things that enable people to live, is this who we want to be?"

Courts in other states, such as Missouri, have blocked similar cuts according to the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation. And if Schwarzenegger's plan is enacted…disability advocates in California say they'll fight for a similar legal ruling.
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