Editor's Column - June 2015

Tim BenjaminWe are having what always seems to me as the normal pushing-out of a Minnesota spring: lots of rainy and humid weather interrupted by a day or two of sunny, warm summer.

We have several items to be thankful for out of this year’s legislative session. There will be a five percent increase on income eligibility standards for Medical Assistance for older adults and people with disabilities. There is no reason that the eligibility should be any different for able-bodied adults than it is for senior citizens and individuals diagnosed with a disability. The five percent increase still does not make the eligibility requirements consistent for everyone across the board. Many organizations will continue to press legislators to make eligibility standards equal for all. It’s been many years of struggle and this is the first increase in a decade; Every year as far back as I can remember, the eligibility standard has been an added but un-passed amendment to some bill. This is an outcome that is appreciated and an issue that won’t be forgotten by the disability community or older adults.

In the Medical Assistance for Employed People with Disabilities program, the percentage that an individual has to pay in premiums before the state starts picking up medical costs has been lowered. The program is similar to many employer-based health insurance policies with a deductible. You have to pay a premium to be a participant in the program. The premium is based on a percentage of the amount of earned income. That percentage was increased last July and will now be reduced back to the prior level. This is another issue that’s been brought up in many legislative sessions, and this is the first time in many, many years that we’ve made a step in the right direction on the percentage issue or “formulary.” Next session we can work to get a further reduction. This is a good, worthy program that none of us should have serious complaints about. We have to keep it as an incentive to work rather than our income going back to the state in premiums. Why work if there is little financial benefit? The intent of the program was to be an incentive to work, and work means a larger earned income and higher asset limits. That’s what we have to continue teaching our legislators, while at the same time thanking them for this progress. This program is a win-win for the state and for persons working with a disability.

The Arc Minnesota held an award banquet on May 26 to acknowledge U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank, recipient of the 2015 Public Policy Recognition award. Judge Frank has been an ally and champion for people with disabilities. He has worked on disability rights throughout his career and now is a key figure in approving the Minnesota Olmstead plan. Judge Frank joins a rather elite group of winners of this award that include Anne Henry (2013), Luther Granquist (2010), Colleen Wieck (2009), and Charlie Lakin (2006), to mention a few. All these individuals
are the best of the best at advancing and supporting disability rights in Minnesota.

Speaking of celebrations, Access Press, right along with the ADA, celebrates our 25th year anniversary this year. There will be opportunities for organizations to buy recognition ads for Access Press in the July issue. Charlie Smith, Jr., the founder of Access Press and I have been the only two executive directors, editors and publishers of the paper over that time. I was fortunate enough to be designated by Charlie to take the reins in 2001, and I will be forever in debt for his confidence in me. There have not been many days that I have not looked forward to starting my day at Access Press, in touch with you, our readers and a fantastic slate of writers, contributors and advertisers. The Access Press staff has proven to be a good resource for, and partner organization in, the disability community for 25 years. The community has made sure that we’ve done good work for a quarter century, and I’m very proud to have been a minor cog in the wheel of this great publication.

I hope you have a good month and I’ll see you at the ADA celebration in July.