In 1999, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. that, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with mental disabilities have a right to live within their community as opposed to an institution, if professionals have determined that the patient’s ability to adapt and live in their community is appropriate, the patient can be reasonably accommodated and the move to community living offers a less restrictive setting. Following this ruling, President Clinton then directed all states to evaluate individuals in mental hospitals, as well as nursing homes and state institutions to determine whether they could too be acclimated back into their communities. Due not only to the major expenses facing Medicaid and maintaining nursing homes, this was thought to be a possible solution to overcrowding and retaining civil rights for those affected individuals.
However, in the decade and a half since the Supreme Court ruling and the President’s policy statement, the government has done little comparatively to remedy the problem. This has resulted in too many disabled and handicapped people remaining in institutions against their will and left without a method of recourse. While the federal government can control state spending for nursing homes and how Medicaid is spent, the community based care programs that so many disabled and handicapped people are seeking care from are optional.
Yet, Medicaid only pays for about 40% of all long term care services, thus, major bills are still piling up on patients, and in states such as South Dakota, the state with the highest percentage of individuals in nursing homes that have a low need or no need at all the services provided for the institution, they are forced to remain in the institution to receive any kind of care. With over 1.4 million individuals in nursing homes throughout the United States, some states are taking active steps to address the issue by allocating a portion of Medicaid funds to in-home care.
With the baby boomer generation continuing to retire at a rapid pace, the problem will only continue to grow. Other options have become available in states such as Minnesota and California, where they are exploring options such as allowing public funds to pay family members to act as caretakers for patients transitioning to community living again and have experienced success. Lawsuits have been brought in eight states over compliance with the Olmstead ruling since, a process that takes much longer than needed, but has raised much needed attention about the issue.