Disability Rights Florida filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Florida on March 23 on behalf of 19,000 people with developmental disabilities awaiting services from the state’s Developmental Disabilities Medicaid Waiver Services program, some for more than half a decade.
The number of slots available in the waiver services program, designed to allow individuals to remain in their communities and avoid unnecessary institutionalization, has remained at about 30,000 for at least five years, despite increased demand. Though the state has 10 categories for individuals eligible for the waiver services, new enrollees have been limited to three categories for individuals living in dangerous situations for themselves and their respective guardians.
As a result, individuals in need are not receiving services while other individuals are stuck in institutions because they have no alternative living arrangements. As of July 1, 37.2 percent of those on the waitlist had been waiting for community services for longer than five years.
“The defendants’ diversion of resources and categorization of waitlisted persons consequently results in a pattern of enrolling only those clients in crisis to the DD Waiver, perpetuating the unnecessary segregation of those in institutions and virtually locking the doors of the institutional facilities so that no resident will ever receive community services,” according to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
The complaint accuses the state of failing to meet the reasonable promptness and freedom of choice provisions of the Medicaid Act, as well as the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The waitlists have become a major issue for people with disabilities in states nationwide. A national advocacy group, the National Organization to End the Waitlists, is dedicated to the issue.
In Olympia on March 23, protesters lined shoes along the capital’s sidewalks to symbolize the more than 13,000 people on the waiting list in Washington State.
Disability Rights Florida is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.