Residents' lawsuit disputes institutional bias

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Gov. Charlie Crist
Gov. Charlie Crist
Thousands of nursing home residents on Medicaid are suing the state for illegally forcing them into institutions.

Nearly 8,500 have filed a class action lawsuit claiming that they should have the option of receiving
community-based long-term care. Plaintiffs refer to a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Olmstead case. The court ruled in the case that the unjustified placement of individuals in institutions such as nursing homes amounts to discrimination.

Defendants named in the suit are the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and Gov. Charlie Crist's (R) Office. The state has countered that the plaintiffs have not been able to prove that community care is medically appropriate for them.

Medicaid, a state and federal program, still tends to favor funding institutional care over other kinds of care. Increasingly, however, states are using waivers that make it easier for them to use Medicaid funding for non-institutional care. The suit is being watched closely around the country, as it could lead to expanded flexibility of the program.

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