Texas seeks federal funding for mentally disabled


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas is asking for additional funding through the Affordable Care Act to help mentally disabled residents live at home, state health officials announced Wednesday in a move that also allowed the state to settle a lawsuit with disability rights groups.

But the state's decision to apply for additional funds, through an optional program under President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul, could embarrass Gov. Rick Perry. The Republican — who has strongly condemned the federal law — has said he is considering a 2016 presidential bid, and his opposition to the law is a signature issue.

Texas officials are preparing an application to take part in Community First Choice, a program established by the law. It increases federal matching dollars to states that provide home care to the disabled rather than placing them in institutions, said Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Health and Human Services.

Goodman said it was not immediately clear how much new federal money could come to Texas once Washington approves the application. But the Legislative Budget Board, which estimates the costs of legislation, has said it could be $93.5 million or more.

A coalition of groups representing the disabled filed a lawsuit in December 2010 complaining that Texas wasn't doing enough for the mentally disabled under the Americans with Disability Act and Medicaid guidelines. The Justice Department supported the suit.

The groups claimed that state officials were violating the rights of the mentally and developmentally disabled by requiring them to live in institutions in order to get Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled.

The coalition — which includes the Arc Of Texas, Coalition Of Texans With Disabilities, Disability Rights Texas and the Center for Public Representation — wants Texas to pay for home care and training that would allow the disabled to remain close to their family and friends.

Republican Sen. Jane Nelson, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, passed a bill this year that required the state to provide home care whenever it was cheaper than institutional care. The law, signed by Perry, also privatized the delivery of the care and required state officials to apply for federal matching dollars.

Goodman said state officials are complying with Nelson's law by applying for Community First Choice money. She said the program will not add any new patients to the state's Medicaid rolls.

"We already provide these services to people who are elderly or have physical disabilities," Goodman said. "We plan to use that increased match rate to provide these services to more people with intellectual disabilities."

Garth Corbett, senior attorney at Disability Rights Texas in Austin, said the interim agreement reached with the state requiring Texas to participate in Community First Choice would allow the disabled to get better care.

"While there is still more to accomplish, we are pleased with the progress we have made and the fact that the parties are working collaboratively to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the level of care needed to live independently," Corbett said.

A Perry spokesman denied that the state's participation in Community First Choice represents a reversal of the governor's opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

"Long before Obamacare was forced on the American people, Texas was implementing policies to provide those with intellectual disabilities more community options to enable them to live more independent lives, at a lower cost to taxpayers," Perry spokesman Josh Havens said in a statement.

"The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will continue to move forward with these policies because they are right for our citizens and our state, regardless of whatever funding schemes may be found in Obamacare," he said.

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