Local Compliance Lags On Federal Disabilities Act

ALMOST five years after Congress passed a sweeping law to open government's doors to the disabled, many public buildings still don't have elevators, modified bathroom stalls, or doorways wide enough for wheelchairs.

And most cities won't have the mandated improvements in place by next month's deadline.

``There's no city or town on the face of this earth that's going to be 100 percent fully in compliance,'' says Lowell Haynes, a planner for Newton, Mass., which has a schedule of projects going into 1997.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act has been hailed as the most significant civil-rights legislation since the 1964 law prohibiting racial discrimination.

It bans discrimination against the disabled in job opportunities, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. About 49 million Americans have disabilities.

Under the law, local governments have until Jan. 26 to make structural changes ensuring that disabled people have access to their services. Governments that miss the deadline can be fined up to $50,000 for the first violation and $100,000 for subsequent violations.

FBI Medicare sting goes awry

FBI agents thought they were setting a trap by buying copies of 35 Medicare cards and selling them to a suspected fraud operation.

But now the cards are being used to buy expensive leg braces and other medical equipment - and the FBI can't track them.

``The FBI lost control of the cards. Now they have a monster on their hands,'' a government investigator familiar with the case told the Miami Herald for a story in Sunday's issues.

Medicare says it can't cancel the copied cards, which have been circulating for 16 months, because that would wipe out legitimate federal benefits to the people whose names are on those cards.

``Your Medicare number is the same as your Social Security number,'' said Faye Baggiano, associate administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration in Washington. ``And Social Security numbers are issued for life.''

The Herald says it examined the Medicare records for 10 people whose numbers were sold.

Twenty-three clinics and companies billed Medicare a total of $163,745 for services that the real card holders say they never got or tried to get. The FBI and Medicare are still investigating, the Herald says, but there have been no arrests.

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