At least 20 disabled activists, most of them in wheelchairs, were arrested outside Sen. John McCain's offices Tuesday after being refused a meeting with the GOP presidential nominee-to-be over a bill to expand Medicaid coverage to more people who want in-home care.
"If he should be president, it would be ironic that he comes from a party that talks a lot about family values," said Bob Kafka, national organizer for ADAPT, a group advocating for passage of the bill. Without the legislation, many disabled and elderly people don't have the choice to apply coverage to anything other than institutional care, he said.
"Families are devastated because they don't have a choice to keep people at home," Kafka said.
McCain was not in his office during the protest. He was campaigning Tuesday in Florida on his health care plan.
The bill, stuck in committee since last year, would amend the Social Security Act to allow people who are eligible for Medicaid coverage of nursing home costs to spend it instead on home-based, or community care.
Sponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., it also would grant extra money to states that participate in the program, according to a summary of the bill.
Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, are co-sponsors of the bill, but McCain is not.
Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said about 20 people from the group were arrested outside McCain's office in the Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday and charged with unlawful assembly.
McCain's Senate chief of staff said the protesters turned down an offer to meet immediately with McCain's aides. Mark Busey said he didn't know McCain's position on the legislation but would ask. The chances are slim, however, that the senator himself would be meeting with members of the group.
"We are more than happy to let them know when he will be back in the Washington area at public events, town halls and the like," Busey said in a telephone interview. "Right now we do not know when he's going to be here for a meeting."
According to blogger Disabled Politico, "U.S. Capitol Hill Police quickly arrived in mass, but seemed confused about what to do about the protest. According to one officer on the scene, Congressional office takeovers are a rarity, and occur approximately once a year. For close to an hour, the activists, the police, and Senator McCain’s staff attempted to broker a resolution that would satisfy all parties at hand."
The protest is one in a series ADAPT has sponsored over the years in support of legislation that would shift federal money to community-based disability assistance and away from nursing homes and other institutions. The group held a similar protest at the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday.
Medicaid currently pays for long-term care in nursing homes and other institutions but does not pay for the same services provided at an individual’s home. ADAPT and other disability activists argue that this “institutional bias” essentially forces people with disabilities to move into such facilities.
The Community Choice Act would allow Medicaid dollars to flow to community-based care options, but the bill has yet to be considered on the floor in either chamber. Variations of the legislation have been introduced since the late 1990s but have stalled over cost estimates suggesting the bill could cost tens of billions of dollars annually.
Disability advocates believe these estimates are wildly overstated, and supporters are working with the Congressional Budget Office to get a new, more realistic cost estimate for the bill before moving it to a vote in either chamber, according to Democratic staffers.
The following video posted at YouTube is said to show how "a deaf ADAPT protester was taken to the ground outside of John McCain's office when she didn't respond to instructions for Capitol Hill Police."