During the contentious 2012 election cycle, it was sometimes difficult to determine what benefits (if any) would be provided to people with disabilities under the Affordable Care Act (aka: “Obamacare”.) Now that our newly elected (and re-elected) officials have been identified, the picture looks promising for people with disabilities.
According to Florida CHAIN, Obamacare will benefit people with disabilities as follows:
- Level the playing field: Pre-existing conditions would be a thing of the past as would annual and lifetime coverage caps. For those currently unable to get insurance because of a pre-existing condition, the bill would require the immediate creation of a high risk pool to cover this population before insurance reforms are fully implemented.
- Long-term care: The Community First Choice Option gives states the option to receive more federal matching funds to support individuals with disabilities who live in the community. In exchange, participating states must eliminate caps on the number of individuals who can live in the community. Initially, advocates wanted health care reform legislation to include a mandate, but they say that giving states this option is an important first step. (Note: Unfortunately, the CLASS Act – intended to establish programs allowing individuals to self finance long term services and supports via a new insurance program – was repealed from ACA in 2011.)
- Coverage expansion: Insurance plans would be required to cover rehabilitation and habilitation services, durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and related supplies, vision and hearing services and behavioral therapy. Mental health coverage would also be expanded for individuals covered under large group plans.
- Medicaid boost: The federal government would increase funding for Medicaid, while expanding eligibility for the program and increasing reimbursement rates to doctors. This is particularly significant for people with disabilities, says Laurel Stine, director of federal relations for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. By extending Medicaid to individuals with a family income of up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, including single childless adults. This confirms the value of the Medicaid program to give low-income, vulnerable Americans the comprehensive services and supports they need to get better and to live happy, healthy and productive lives.”
- Accessibility: Disability would be added to the list of health disparities so that research can be conducted regarding the accessibility of health care to this population. Moreover, standards would be created for accessible medical equipment like exam tables and x-ray machines.
But, there is still much work to be done in long-term care in the state of Florida.
With strong support for Obamacare, Florida is now forced to seriously address health access and services for people with disabilities. We are hopeful that CMS will require Florida to explain in clear detail why it is prepared to propose the adoption of a more expensive long-term care (LTC) Medicaid program at the precise moment state and federal policy makers are making huge cuts in current expenditures. Florida already has one of the lowest cost systems in the nation for services to people with developmental disabilities. To suggest that costs can be reduced through FOR-PROFIT organizations without limiting access and diminishing quality of care is simply not credible. Election 2014 may seem a tad far into the distant future… but I suspect Legislators and Congressmen are now more aware of the impact of their policy decision making. They will be held accountability to taxpayers, voters and Florida’s citizens with disabilities.