Today, I join my fellow Americans in celebrating the anniversary of the passage of a great civil rights achievement, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As we look back at the progress we've made in the last 21 years, we must also look forward and recommit ourselves to achieving the law's goals of ensuring "equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency" for all Americans with disabilities.
In the last two years, we have taken significant steps to make that happen. While the ADA broke down barriers in housing and the workplace, schools, shopping malls, telecommunications and public transportation, it left one key barrier: discrimination in the health insurance market. But through the Affordable Care Act, we are finally bringing this practice to an end.
Thanks to the law, insurers can no longer turn children away just because they were born with a disability. Insurers are also prohibited from putting arbitrary lifetime caps on benefits that leave people with disabilities without the care they needed when they needed it most.
Through the health care law, we are also working with states to make it easier for Americans with disabilities to get the supports and services they need to live in their own communities surrounded by their loved ones. Americans with disabilities deserve a better choice than living in an institution or living at home with no support at all, and we're working to make sure they have it.
This work is at the heart of our mission at the Department of Health and Human Services. In the past month, we have made several significant announcements that will improve opportunity for Americans with disabilities.
* Today, the Administration on Aging announced the availability of $1.1 million to six new states to enhance the quality of the Lifespan Respite Care Program.
* Today, the HHS Advisory Committee on Minority Health released a new report on health equity for minority persons with disabilities.
* The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will award $2.1 million to four states to pursue innovative strategies to help people with disabilities transition from institutions to community living.
* Draft regulations for the Affordable Insurance Exchanges, which included accessibility standards for people who use assisted technology are available for public comments until September 28 at http://www.healthcare.gov/center/regulations/exchanges07112011a.pdf (PDF - 705 KB).
* New draft standards for collecting and reporting data on disability status are available through Aug.1, 2011, for public comments at www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/section4302.
We have a long way to go to make good on the promise of the ADA, but we are headed in the right direction. Our department continues to work with our partners across the administration and the country to ensure that Americans with disabilities have the opportunity to live full and rich lives and make the most of their talents and abilities.