(WASHINGTON DC) Tired of empty promises from Washington, 200 disabled activists will literally "march on Congress," challenging lawmakers to act on legislation that will allow all Americans to receive long term care services in their own homes, instead of being forced into nursing homes as they are under current Medicaid policy. Beginning with a September 4th press conference at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, marchers will travel 144 miles through Delaware and Maryland, ending their trek September 17 at a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. where they will be greeted and joined by an expected 20,000 supporters. The goal of the rally and march is to promote passage of MiCASSA and Money Following the Person legislation, a call for real Medicaid reform instead of block grants, and full implementation of the Supreme Court's Olmstead decision.
"We've been working for over ten years to get this legislation passed," said Eric von Schmetterling of Philadelphia ADAPT, "and Congress keeps refusing to act, despite the fact that there are 600 organizational supporters, and despite the fact that every additional day they keep their heads in the sand, they are wasting the lives of older and disabled Americans who remain warehoused in this nation's nursing homes and institutions."
The legislation in question, S971 and H.R. 2032, is commonly known as MiCASSA, the Medicaid Community-based Attendant Services and Supports Act. MiCASSA provides that people with disabilities, young and old, can choose to receive the services they need in their own homes in the community rather than being forced into nursing homes and other institutional settings by the current "institutional bias" in Medicaid law. Senate Sponsors of S971 are Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), and 11 co-sponsors: Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. John Corzine (D-NJ), Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Mark Landrieu (D-LA), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT). In the House, Sponsors, Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), have been joined by 72 of their colleagues as co-sponsors of H.R. 2032.
First introduced in 1997 by then Speaker of the House, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA), MiCASSA set the stage for the 2001 "New Freedom Initiative," the first major thrust of newly elected President George W. Bush. The New Freedom Initiative, which mandates removal of barriers to community participation for people with disabilities, also followed a 1999 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Olmstead vs. L.C. and E.W that said keeping people in institutional settings when they could be served in the community constituted discrimination, and was therefore illegal.
"We may have the Olmstead decision and the Money Following the Person on paper," said Crosby King, Maryland ADAPT organizer, "but right now those are only moral victories. We are increasingly frustrated at the lack of strong enforcement of Olmstead, and the lack of real legislative action on the Money Following Person. We're marching over 140 miles in two weeks to draw attention to Congress' inaction, and to demonstrate what we're willing to endure while Congress sits in plush, air conditioned comfort, ignoring the over 2 million Americans hidden behind institutional walls."