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Health Care Vote Ushers In Big Changes For People With Disabilities

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In a historic vote Sunday the House of Representatives sent a sweeping health care reform bill to the president’s desk, a move that could dramatically change the lives of Americans with disabilities, advocates say.

The measure, which passed on a vote of 219 to 212, would eliminate many insurance caps and loopholes, while expanding Medicaid eligibility and enhancing long-term care options.

President Barack Obama, who fought hard for the measure to pass, is expected to sign the bill into law as early as Tuesday after a contentious year of debate on the issue.

Under the bill, most Americans would be required to have health insurance and providers would no longer be able to deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition. Meanwhile, annual and lifetime coverage caps would become a thing of the past and Medicaid would expand to accept those earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Democrats hailed the bill passage as a historic accomplishment on par with the establishment of Social Security and Medicare, while Republicans resoundingly rejected the measure.

Among disability advocates, however, the House vote was seen as a huge win.

“This is far more historic for people with disabilities than it is for the average American,” said Liz Savage, director of health and housing policy at the Disability Policy Collaboration, a joint lobbying initiative of The Arc and United Cerebral Palsy. “We’ve been trying to get these reforms enacted for decades.”

The bill headed to the president’s desk also retains the Community First Choice Option, which promotes community-based living options for people with disabilities. Under the provision, states can qualify to receive more federal matching funds to support community living if they 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.

Other provisions in the bill would require that insurance cover both rehabilitation and habilitation services in addition to providing mental health benefits. What’s more, adult children would be able to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until they turn 26.

The bill passed by the House on Sunday mirrors a bill approved by the Senate last year and will go straight to Obama to be signed into law. A so-called reconciliation bill must still be considered by the Senate in order to make some changes, including a provision to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates. That bill has no bearing on whether the package’s main provisions will go into effect.

All of the changes are a big deal for people with disabilities who face high rates of unemployment and often can’t qualify for coverage because of their condition, says Laurel Stine, director of federal relations at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

“For people with disabilities and mental illness they will no longer be in fear of being denied coverage,” Stine said.

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Comments (3 Responses)

  1. twinkie1cat says:

    If people with disabilities would pressure their Republican congresspeople and shame them for not voting for health care, perhaps they would change and decide to represent America. Some really nasty stuff happened with Teaparty members harrassing parents of adult children with disabilities, complaining about giving health care to children with disabilities and even harrassing a person with Parkinson’s disease last weekend in DC as well as the racist and homophobic remarks, which are expected from conservatives.

    There have been people who have come on political websites and political sections of websites who may be using assistive technology or have developmental disabilities and they are, strangely, usually conservative. I am saying this because some suspiciously write in all lower case (but not all caps since that is considered yelling)with no punctuation, indicating the possibility that they are using switches, voice input or word banks that don’t always catch homonyms. Others just cannot spell or use correct grammar. Plus, the messages are often quite short for a complex thought, another sign that it could be taking a while to get it written. While I get after other writers who make critical comments when it looks like disability could be a problem, I think more disabled people need to seek out places to express themselves. (Care 2 is one that includes a variety of topics and tolerates varied viewpoints)

  2. CP_Lady says:

    From the comment above, twinkie1cat states that it’s strange that most people with disabilities are conservatives. I have cerebral palsy, and I’m proud to say I am also a conservative because I don’t believe in many of the ethical decisions that the liberals make. Abortion is one liberal issue I strongly oppose. I feel abortion is morally wrong especially if the unhborn child is aborted just because s/he has a disability.

    I also opposed the health care reform bill because it scares me to think the government will have so much control over our personal health issues. My biggest fear regarding this health care reform is that people who have severe physical or mental disabilities may not receive the quality of health care that they need, or they will be forced to consider how to terminate their own lives. Hopefully, my fears won’t be realized, and the reform bill will improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.

    I use assistive technology to access my computer, and I’m typing this comment with my nose. It does take me quite a while to type, but I always try to be grammatically correct. I have been writing a disability issues column for my local newspaper for more than a decade.

  3. ProLife says:

    @CP_Lady

    You rather the big insurance companies have control over your healthcare?
    What if the government paid for all healthcare and wrote right into the law that that will pay for you to see what ever doctor you want unless his schedule is already full or he has no credentials to be a legitimate doctor.
    And we could also guarantee there is enough professionals and resources to do health care.
    Government-paid for healthcare can increase our health care choices tremendously. It just depends on how the bill is written and carried out.
    I do agree with you on abortion (clear from my username). However, I am consistently pro-life. Nobody should have to die just because they don’t have enough money to pay for health care.
    And BTW, don’t believe everything that you read online or hear through the news. There is nothing in the law or anything proposed that would try to pressure disabled people to terminate their own lives.
    Honestly the way the parties are set up makes no sense to me. Anti-abortion logically goes with pro-disability rights, pro-health care for everybody, anti-death penalty, and at least being cautious about running off the war.
    “Liberal” and “Conservative” are just teams these days with no logical, coherent underlying philosophy.

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