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.