Amendment to Medicaid expansion threatens independence of people with disabilities

(Chicago) – In the days before the 23rd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Access Living, Equip for Equality, the Mental Health Summit and Next Steps urged Governor Quinn to stop the Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Act (SMHR). According to the coalition of groups, which represents thousands of people with disabilities across Illinois, the Act threatens progress that Illinois has made to offer people with mental illness integrated, community based supports. The SMHR Act is tied to the Medicaid Expansion Bill, signed into law by Governor Quinn at a ceremony on July 22. “We are disappointed that Medicaid Expansion, a good thing for people with disabilities, has been hijacked by the Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Act,” said Patti Werner, Managing Attorney for Access Living. “The Americans with Disabilities Act was celebrated as a tool to bring down the shameful wall of exclusion for people with disabilities. Now, instead of moving forward on independence and integration in Illinois, the (SMHR) Act will result in the continued institutionalization of people with disabilities.”

“Institutions for Mental Diseases,” (IMD), are facing reductions in the number of residents as a result of the state's settlement of the Williams v. Quinn case, which provides opportunities for persons with mental illness move from large impersonal settings to their own homes and apartments. Yet, the Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Act will preserve and repurpose IMDs so that they can avoid the logical consequences of the state's rebalancing efforts. “The act not only goes against the spirit of the Williams settlement, it goes against Governor Quinn's commitment to create more community–based options for people with disabilities, and it goes against the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Fred Friedman of Next Steps.

Funding for community mental health services has been slashed repeatedly in recent years. Under the SMHR Act, the State would spend even more money to keep people in large, expensive, and impersonal institutions, rather than commit resources to strengthening and expanding community–based mental health services.

Services in the IMDs are not eligible for Medicaid matching funds and are fully state funded. “It is fiscally unsound and irresponsible to implement this bill in the hope that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will approve federal funds in the future,” said Mark Heyrman, Facilitator of the Mental Health Summit.

The signing into law of SMHR comes days after a report from Senator Tom Harkin (D–IA) found that more than 200,000 people in the United States remain unnecessarily institutionalized. The report also found that Illinois institutionalizes people under the age of 65 more than any other state. “Two years after Governor Quinn committed to giving people with disabilities more community based choices, Illinois political leaders continue to bow to the pressure of nursing homes,” said Karen Ward of Equip for Equality. “We hope that in the near future, our leaders will work with the disability community and find the courage to make this right.”

Access Living, Equip for Equality, the Mental Health Summit and Next Steps urge that a bill be introduced in the support a trailer bill introduced in the fall veto session that would repeal the SMHR Act. A bill repealing the SMHR Act would give legislators the opportunity to vote on the substance of the Act without regard to other provisions of the Medicaid Expansion Bill.

For more information, contact Gary Arnold at312–640–2199, or Patti Werner at 312–640–2148,

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