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Supreme Court gives Gov. Gregoire, AG more time to appeal disability-cuts ruling

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on Sep. 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
September 27, 2012 1:20 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court is giving Gov. Chris Gregoire and state attorneys until Oct. 22 to decide if they will appeal a 9th Circuit Court ruling that struck down some across-the-board budget cuts that Gregoire tried to order in 2010. At issue in the case at hand are budget cuts that reduced the amount of in-home care hours available to Medicaid clients in Washington.

The cuts meant fewer hours of homecare assistance with washing, laundry, cooking and other chores. The extension is the second granted after an original Sept. 17 deadine.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state in May, and this story talks a bit about the court’s finding that the cuts violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA.

As we reported earlier in September, disability activists organized a protest outside Gregoire’s office, urging her to drop the case. Their rationale: a full appeal could prompt the high court to revisit and water down the landmark Olmstead ruling, which enshrined the right of disabled people to receive services in a less restrictive setting than institutions.

In many cases this meant they could receive home-care help to make their in-home set-ups workable. Advocates say Olmstead did for the disabled what the court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling did for civil rights in 1954.

Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for Gregoire, said no decision has been made on whether to appeal and the governor Gregoire is taking several concerns into account.

“It’s safe to say that any impact on that (Olmstead) decision is certainly being weighed. There are other factors, too. In the state’s eyes, the decision by the 9th Circuit really puts a damper on the state’s ability to budget going forward,” Shagren said.

She described a kind of Catch-22 for states that agree to expand Medicaid for what the federal government considers optional services.  Washington added optional services aimed at assisting people to live independently in their homes “during good times,” but now finds its hands are tied if it wants to scale those back, she explained.

“It has the potential of making other states think twice about expanding optional services in good times if they can’t reduce those optional services during bad times,’’ Shagren said.

She also said that “ultimately it is the AG’s Office that makes the decision. The governor will be making a recommendation.’’

State and national advocacy groups – fearing any chance Olmstead could be revisited and changed – have written a pair of letters to Gregoire urging her to drop the appeals on those grounds. But the Attorney General’s Office is skeptical that an appeal could lead to such an outcome.

The case is known as M.R. v. Dreyfus, referring to a disabled minor child listed as one of several affected plaintiffs and to Susan Dreyfus, the former state Department of Social and Health Services secretary, listed as defendant.

It is one of several legal actions still pending over state budget cuts in recent years.

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