2015 Legislative issue: Medical Assistance campaign seeks equity

A massive stroke during surgery forced Brooklyn Center resident Layne to learn to walk, talk, read and write all over […]

A massive stroke during surgery forced Brooklyn Center resident Layne to learn to walk, talk, read and write all over again. She only became eligible for Medical Assistance (MA) and waiver services after spending the entire 401K she’d built up from 30 years of working. She needed to pay medical bills but losing her financial security was “terrifying.”

“I used to love my large mocha latte at Caribou,” Layne said. “Now, for that same money, I buy a loaf of bread, gallon of milk and jar of peanut butter for a week’s worth of lunches. Layne receives $1,195 per month from Social Security Disability Income but must pay $466 in medical bills every month before MA starts paying, as her spend-down to qualify for MA and waiver services.

She pays $500 per month in rent and has an arrangement with her landlord to do household and outdoor chores in exchange for utilities. After paying rent and MA spend-down, Layne has $229 to pay all of her other bills. “Most months I don’t have enough money to meet my basic needs. I went from a six-figure income to $14,000 per year and now feel like I am invisible.”

DHS Chart

Rebecca, who lives in Hopkins, sustained a traumatic brain injury in December 2005 when a drunk driver hit her vehicle. She has given up her career and activities she enjoyed including bicycling, reading, playing piano and singing. She is working again and looking forward to qualifying for MA for Employed Persons or MA-EPD.

After paying her $670 per month rent and a $450 spend-down, Rebecca has $59 left for groceries and other expenses. She goes to a food shelf to make ends meet. “I love my neighborhood and want to keep living there,” she said.

Forcing people into poverty so that they can retain some level of independence may seem counter-intuitive. That is the situation for more than 12,000 Minnesotans. Sharing of personal stories may be the key to success for the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) and its 2015 legislative campaign. The consortium’s focus for the upcoming legislative session is to increase the MA income standard, raise the asset limits and reduce spend-downs. If all goes well, people with disabilities and older adults can keep more of their income to live independently in the community.

“People have worked hard on this issue during recent legislative sessions,” said MN-CCD Executive Director Rebecca Covington. Some advocacy groups and self-advocates have worked for reforms for more than a decade.

The legislative effort was discussed October 18 at the MN-CCD’s annual meeting in St. Paul. This will be the second year in a row that MA income standard reform is the coalition’s top priority. Efforts to make change fell short during the 2014 session.

What frustrates many Minnesotans with disabilities and advocacy groups is that a state law change that took effect January 1 raised the amount that low-income Minnesotans age 18 and over without disabilities are allowed to make each month and remain eligible for Minnesota’s Medicaid Program, which is known as MA or Medicaid Expansion. But the law change didn’t include Minnesotans with disabilities or senior citizens. Many advocacy groups and self-advocates question why people with disabilities and seniors should be forced to live in deeper poverty than others who have access to the same health program.

People with disabilities and seniors more than 65 years of age with income over 100% of the Federal Poverty Guideline are required to spend down to 75% of the guideline limit and only retain $3000 in assets to be eligible for the program. MNCCD is asking state lawmakers to raise MA Income Standards for persons with disabilities and the elderly to what is allowed for other groups under Medicaid Expansion, and also to ensure that there is a significant increase in asset limits.

The 2015 legislative session starts on January 6. The group working on the issue includes a storytelling team, to help those affected communicate with legislators. The goal of MN-CCD is to get a personal story from at least one person in every legislative district.

MN-CCD has an MA Campaign resource page, with sign-up forms and information on telling one’s story. Information is available for interviewers. Release forms are also online.

Agency participation in the campaign is also sought, with forms available at the same link. The page will get regular legislative updates, so check here for campaign information as well as needed forms and guides for storytelling. Anyone with questions may call project interns Thabiso Rowan or Ericka Otterson at 612-867-3669.