June 28, 2009 in City

Cuts to in-home care spur lawsuit

Down syndrome aid hit by budget pinch
Associated Press
 

SEATTLE – Lawyers for three young people with Down syndrome are suing the state of Washington to try to prevent a cut in the hours of in-home care they receive, which is set to begin Wednesday because of state budget cuts.

The plaintiffs range in age from 14 to 20 and receive Medicaid benefits. Their caretakers were notified last month that the state Department of Social and Health Services was cutting back on the hours of care each month because of state budget cuts.

The caretakers are paid with federal Medicaid funds that are administered by the state.

According to DSHS, the cuts will affect approximately 3,100 disabled children and save the state about $3 million over two years.

The lawsuit claims that the plaintiffs have disabilities so severe they would be eligible for placement in state institutions if they were not cared for at home.

The children’s parents and guardians already save the state money by assuming responsibility for their care, but the families depend on relief by Medicaid-funded providers who come to their homes to help with the children’s care, the suit said.

The children’s parents and guardians were notified each child would lose from two to seven hours of Medicaid-paid assistance per month because of budget cuts, a letter from the state said. The young people currently receive between 72 and 141 hours of in-home assistance each month.

“These cuts will hurt children with serious disabilities and the family that is doing its very best to take care of those children at home,” said plaintiffs attorney Amy Crewdson.

Under federal law, the state can make cuts to these Medicaid recipients only when individual assessments indicate their needs have changed and that reduced services are appropriate, according to the suit.

“The Department of Social and Health Services assessed every one of these children to determine what amount of Medicaid-funded in-home personal-care help the state would provide,” said Crewdson. “Now, DSHS is cutting every child’s hours, not because a new assessment was conducted or the child’s needs changed, but because of the state’s budget.”

Kathy Leitch, assistant secretary for Aging and Disability Services with DSHS, said the cuts are an unfortunate but unavoidable result of the economic crisis.

“The budget situation that the state has been facing is unprecedented, and we know that reductions in service are upsetting to consumers, advocates and providers,” Leitch said.

She said the state has recognized that lawsuits might be filed in response to the cuts.

Leitch said that if the plaintiffs prevail, the state may have to cut services to other vulnerable people.

A court hearing has been set for Monday.

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