Feds intervene in Florida institutionalization lawsuit

The Department of Justice has joined a class action lawsuit alleging that Florida is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and federal Medicaid law by failing to provide necessary services to ensure children with disabilities can live in their communities.

The class action lawsuit was filed in May on behalf of eight children, one of whom lives in a nursing home despite being capable of living in a more integrated setting and seven of whom will likely be forced to live in institutions due to the state’s recent cap on the number of hours of in-home services available to them.

In its amicus brief, dated June 28, the Department of Justice argues that the cap on the number of hours is arbitrary and does not take into consideration the individualized needs of the children. Federal Medicaid law requires states to cover all “medically necessary” services for eligible children. Under the ADA and the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, states are required to provide services to ensure children can live in the most integrated settings in their communities appropriate to their needs.

While the state argues that many of the services it no longer provides are “personal care services,” that parents are “inherently responsible” for, the DOJ argues that Florida is skirting its legal obligations.

“Plaintiffs’ parents and caregivers do not seek financial reimbursement for the natural supports they provide to their children. They seek coverage for medically necessary services for their children,” the DOJ stated in its brief. “Defendants cite no authority for the proposition that they can shift the burden of providing medically necessary services, mandated under the (Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment ) provisions of the Medicaid Act, to parents and caregivers. Indeed there is none.

“Although a state may take into consideration natural supports provided to a Medicaid recipient, it may not compel such supports or require parents or caregivers to become skilled care providers.”

The children are represented by the North Florida Center for Equal Justice and the Florida State University Law School’s Public Interest Law Center.