Agencies challenge law that cuts payments for family caregivers

Home health agencies are challenging the constitutionality of a new law that cuts state payments for personal care assistants who provide care to disabled family members.

The lawsuit filed by several providers seeks to restore full funding, arguing that the cuts are discriminatory "because a disproportionate percentage of those adversely affected by the cuts are female, people of color and non-English speaking immigrants."

The program pays for personal care assistants to provide in-home care for people with a disability or illness. During the special legislative session earlier this year, lawmakers voted to cut reimbursement rates by 20 percent for PCAs who provide care for a family member. The rate change went into effect on Oct. 1.

The lawsuit alleges that the cuts violate state and federal law.

"There is simply no rational reason for paying equally-qualified people less for the same work, just because they happen to be related to the person in need of care," said David Bradley Olson, the attorney for the providers, in a statement released Tuesday. "This is what happens when the Legislature passes laws in the middle of the night without input from those who will be affected."

Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said the governor has already said he will work in the next legislative session to change the law.

Some people who rely on the program prefer to receive services from a family member, particularly clients from Hmong and Native American communities, said Tim Plant, executive director of HealthStar Home Health, one of the agencies suing the state.

"It's lower pay for the same work, and it really appears to be unconstitutional because it fails to protect the rights of those citizens," Plant said.

The cut has been particularly difficult for rural Native American families, he said. His company, HealthStar Home Health, employs about 350 PCAs, and about 40 percent provide care to relatives. In some cases, he said, family members have moved back to rural areas to provide care to aging parents.

"To have a trained, trusted relative who in some cases quit a higher paying job in the Cities to return home and care for a family member, you know it's devastating and really cruel to cut their pay by two dollars," Plant said. "There may not even be someone else who could take that job."

The lawsuit was filed against Gov. Mark Dayton and Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson in Ramsey County District Court. An initial court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning.