Supreme Court Case Could Sharply Limit Disability Rights
Disability advocates are warning that a case going before the U.S. Supreme Court could severely threaten the rights of millions of people who rely on Medicaid and other government programs.
At issue is whether beneficiaries of programs like Medicaid have the right to sue state and local governments — or essentially have any form of recourse — if their civil rights are violated.
The case known as Talevski v. Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County was brought by the estate of Gorgi Talevski, who is no longer living, alleging that he was chemically restrained and medicated so that he would go to sleep instead of being treated for his dementia while living in an Indiana nursing home.
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A lower court determined that Talevski’s estate could sue under the Nursing Home Reform Act provisions of Medicaid, but the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, or HHC, appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that nursing home residents shouldn’t be able to bring suit in federal court.
The case is now scheduled to be argued before the high court Nov. 8.
For decades, disability advocates say that the Supreme Court has recognized the ability of beneficiaries to sue if their rights under a whole host of safety net programs are violated. A court ruling in HHC’s favor would change that.
“With Talevski, the Supreme Court could cut off the right to go to court if state officials unlawfully deny, reduce or terminate benefits guaranteed by federal law. This would make it nearly impossible to hold state and local governments accountable for violating the rights of those depending on federally funded safety net programs,” reads a petition from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and a handful of organizations in Indiana that are pushing back against HHC.
The impact would be far reaching, advocates say, affecting millions of people who rely on everything from Medicaid to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and more.
Groups supporting the Talevski estate say the case could also influence the right to sue under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination based on sex, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which speaks to discrimination based on race, color or national origin, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits disability discrimination.
“This case is a large-scale assault on disability rights around the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “Medicaid is the primary source of health care for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, the vast majority of whom want to live with dignity in their homes and communities. Protecting their right to private action when such rights are violated would ensure they aren’t unnecessarily institutionalized and prevent the unraveling of anti-discrimination progress set forth by the ADA for over 30 years.”
Now, advocates are pressuring HHC to drop the case. Jalyn Radziminski at the Bazelon Center said more than 13,000 people have emailed HHC and elected officials in Marion County, Ind. — who appoint members to HHC’s board — urging them to withdraw the matter.
More than 20 amicus briefs supporting the Talevski estate have been filed by groups including the Bazelon Center, The Arc, the American Association of People with Disabilities, AARP and top Democrats in Congress.
Meanwhile, an amicus brief from a long-term care industry group as well as one filed by Indiana and 16 other states are backing HHC.
“This case is no joke,” said Jane Perkins, legal director at the National Health Law Program, which filed an amicus brief along with 42 other legal organizations supporting Talevski. “An adverse decision will have huge implications for government program beneficiaries and for holding governments accountable.”
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