By David Gorn, California Healthline
California officials and disability rights advocates yesterday announced a settlement of a lawsuit challenging a 20 percent budget trigger cut in In-Home Supportive Services care.
The settlement allows an 8 percent reduction this year and a 7 percent reduction in 2014. It also changes the cuts from permanent to temporary.
The size and timing of the cuts are based, in part, on a current 3.6 percent IHSS cut established in 2009. That reduction will remain in effect, and an additional 4.4 percent cut will be added onto that this year followed by a 3.4 percent additional cut next year, bringing the totals to 8 percent this year and 7 percent next year.
"As a package deal, it's not as simple as saying it's 20 percent down to 8 percent," said Elissa Gershon, attorney for one of the plaintiffs, Disability Rights California. "What we're looking at is small cuts this year and the following year, and hopefully full restoration of benefits in 2015."
Michael Weston, spokesperson for the Department of Social Services, which was named in the suit along with the Department of Health Care Services, said the budget included the 20 percent cut over only seven months, so the 8 percent cut over the full 12 months actually achieves budgeted savings, while helping beneficiaries and eliminating a costly lawsuit.
"The agreement still captures budgeted savings, that's really the gist of it," Weston said. "And we're creating stability for IHSS recipients, ensuring that these individuals remain safely in the community."
IHSS aid allows some recipients to avoid hospitalization or nursing home care, which "would be far more costly than the current IHSS program," according to Weston.
In addition to settling the issue of the 20 percent trigger cuts, the settlement covers several other key points:
- The agreement resolves earlier cuts based on beneficiaries' functional index score;
- It ensures IHSS beneficiaries will have the right to request a reassessment based on a change in circumstances. Now they won't need a medical certification, as is currently required;
- The agreement not only resolves the Oster v. Lightbourne lawsuit (formerly known as V.L. v. Wagner), but it also settles another IHSS case, Dominguez v. Schwarzenegger; and
- The agreement restores the hours lost from the 7% cut as early as the spring of 2015, as long as California is able to obtain federal approval of a provider fee to bring new federal revenue to California, according to advocates.
"The gradual nature of the cuts is less harmful," Gershon said. "It means the uncertainty of the past four years is gone, and there is hope for full restoration of hours in 2015. People depend on these services to remain in their home. We don't want to minimize the impact [of these cuts], but under the circumstances, we're doing it in the hopes that the stability outweighs the harm for the next two years."