The Minnesotans with Disabilities Act of 2005 (House File 980 and Senate File 984) is making great progress at the Minnesota Legislature. The bills have been heard in five committee hearings in a period of six weeks. The latest hearing to examine the financial costs of the bill was scheduled for Tuesday April 5th in the House Health Policy and Finance Committee.
The support from people with disabilities, family members and other advocates has been very valuable. People attending lobby days at the capitol, writing letters to legislators and making phone calls have made a great difference. Legislators are talking about this bill and what they have been hearing from people like you! Leaders in the House and Senate, both Republican and Democrat are talking publicly about this bill and the need to improve services for people with disabilities.
The senate held the first of two hearings on the bill on March 10th. This committee hearing was a great opportunity to examine the challenges that people with disabilities face on a daily basis.
During this hearing, some concerns were raised by county employees about the sections of bill that would provide choice of a Medical Assistance waiver case manager. Advocates have been seeking this change for a number of years to give people more flexibility for people with disabilities to find a case manager that may better address their needs based on their diagnosis or other special requirements. Resistance to this proposal has centered largely on concerns about liability, potential conflicts of interest of private case managers and possible job losses of county employees.
Advocates have met with organizations representing the interests of Minnesota counties and the union that represents the county employees that serve people with disabilities. These meetings have led to resolution of a number of key issues. It is unclear at this time what the fiscal implications of this proposal will be and how likely they are to be passed by the legislature.
Much of the focus of the Minnesotans with Disabilities Act is to help people with disabilities under age 65 move out of nursing homes and into community-based settings. These sections of the bill are receiving a warm reception from legislators in part because they agree it is good public policy to have people with disabilities living in the community. Another reason to support this section is it is saving the state money. It is estimated that the state will save more than $1.5 million in combined fiscal years 2008 and 2009.
Another section of the bill that people with disabilities are tracking closely is the expansion of the Medical Assistance income standard. This is the income a person can keep each month after spending their income on their medical care. For example, if a single adult with a disability is receiving $1,000 per month of income from Social Security, they must spend that income on their medical care until they have $582 left for food, rent, transportation and all the other essentials life. This is 75 percent below the federal poverty guideline. The federal poverty guideline is currently $776 for a single adult.
The reality is people have great difficulty living on such little income. The Minnesotans with Disabilities Act proposes that no person shall need to reach poverty because of Medical Assistance benefits. This change would cost the state $35 million every two years.
Given the deficit still being faced by the state for the next two years, it is unlikely that this proposal will be fully funded. Advocates are proposing incremental steps to provide more income for people with disabilities in this situation.
Many things are likely to change in the coming weeks as the House and Senate develop their budget bills. The full House and Senate are expected to take action on their budget bills by early May. It is likely that a conference committee of the House and Senate will make decisions about this proposal by the time the session must adjourn on May 23, 2005.
It is still not too late for you to express your support to your legislators for these bills. To find out who your legislators is, call 651-296-2146 or go to www.leg.state.mn.us.