Long-Term Care:

Implications of Supreme Court's Olmstead Decision Are Still Unfolding

GAO-01-1167T: Published: Sep 24, 2001. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 2001.

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Kathryn G. Allen
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In the Olmstead case, the Supreme Court decided that states were violating title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) if they provided care to disabled people in institutional settings when they could be a appropriately served in a home or community-based setting. Considerable attention has focused on the decision's implications for Medicaid, the dominant public program supporting long-term care institutional, home, and community-based services. Although Medicaid spending for home and community-based service is growing, these are largely optional benefits that states may or may not choose to offer, and states vary widely in the degree to which they cover them. The implications of the Olmstead decision--in terms of the scope and the nature of states' obligation to provide home and community-based long-term care services--are still unfolding. Although the Supreme Court ruled that providing care in institutional settings may violate the ADA, it also recognized that there are limits to what states can do, given the available resources and the obligation to provide a range of services for disabled people. The decision left many open questions for states and lower courts to resolve. State programs also may be influenced over time as dozens of lawsuits and hundreds of formal complaints seeking access to appropriate services are resolved.

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