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More than 500 disability-rights protesters from across the country, most in wheelchairs, descended on Congressional offices today to call for expanded patient rights under Medicaid and to express frustration with some Members’ calls for deep cuts to social programs.

Despite numerous arrests and a heavy Capitol Police presence, the protesters plan to stay on Capitol Hill throughout the week.

“We have been closely monitoring the situation and are now processing those we have arrested,” said Capitol Police spokesman Michael Lauer. “We are familiar with this group, however, and are sympathetic to their needs and causes.”

Most of those arrested were being held in Room 2128 in the Rayburn House Office Building to be processed, but arrests also were made in the Hart Senate and Cannon House office buildings. No official comment on the number of arrests is yet available.

In addition to general calls for enhancing disability rights, the protesters urged Members of Congress to sponsor and pass the Medicaid Community-Based Attendant Services and Supports Act, as well as the Money Follows the Person Act, both of which were proposed by ADAPT, the disability-rights organization leading Monday’s protest and fight on the Hill.

ADAPT argues that these bills would allow the disabled greater control over their health care options under Medicaid, which they say currently forces too many into nursing homes unnecessarily and against their will. The acts have been brought before Congress twice previously, both times unsuccessfully.

“We’ve tried being nice,” said Linda Anthony, an ADAPT spokeswoman. “We’ve written Congressmen, we’ve phoned them, we’ve come to their offices to try to talk, but nothing works. We’re done playing nice. We’d rather go to jail then go back to the nursing homes.”

Anthony, who was in a wheelchair like most others, was flanked by more than 40 other protesters outside the office of Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) cheering for those either wheeled or carried out of the office by Capitol Police and chanting “No more talk, we need action.”

Barton’s office was just one of several Congressional offices targeted by the protesters in a coordinated effort that had been planned for months. As chairman of Energy and Commerce, Barton would play a crucial role in helping or hindering both of the acts, Anthony said.

Barton was in his district Monday, and although the protesters were able to meet with an aide in charge of health and human services, the police eventually were called. According to the Capitol Police, protesters were arrested only after Barton’s office requested that they be removed.

“We tried to accommodate them, but they weren’t agreeing with what we were saying,” said Barton’s press secretary Karen Modlin. “It kept escalating to the point where we needed to get the Capitol Police involved.”

“Our job is to make Medicaid stronger for the people who need it most. I’m sorry ADAPT disagrees,” she added.

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