Community-based services are often much harder to obtain than access to institutional care, but there is a new push underway to change that.

A bill introduced in Congress this month would ensure that people with disabilities who are eligible for institutional care would have the right to access those same services in their own homes, if they choose.

The legislation known as the Disability Integration Act would prohibit states and insurers that cover long-term services and supports from imposing any policies, cost caps, waiting lists or other limitations to community-based offerings that are different from those in place for institutional care.

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“Right now a person who needs long-term services and support has a very limited choice where they can receive services and it’s irrational and expensive,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who introduced the measure, at a recent event with disability advocates. “This bill is ultimately a civil rights bill. At its core it’s about one simple thing, people with disabilities must be treated equally to those without.”

Effectively, backers say that the legislation would strengthen the integration mandate within the Americans with Disabilities Act and bolster the Supreme Court’s 1999 ruling in Olmstead v. L.C. which found that people with disabilities have the right to access services in the community.

Under the measure, states and insurers would be responsible for establishing adequate pay rates for support workers to ensure that workforce issues do not impede access to community-based services. Additionally, they would be required to inform individuals with disabilities of options to receive services in the community before institutionalizing them. And, those who choose to be institutionalized would need to be notified regularly of the opportunity to be supported in the community.

The legislation has bipartisan support in the Senate and in the House of Representatives where it was introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

This is not the first time that the Disability Integration Act has been brought forward, but advocates say they have high hopes that it can gain approval this time around. They are urging the House to pass the bill by July 26, the anniversary of the ADA.

“The midterm elections changed everything. With Democrats taking over the House, there is a real opportunity to pass the bill on the House side this year,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “As someone who uses attendant services and has spent time in a nursing facility, I can’t begin to express how exciting it is that this is finally going to happen.”

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