Minnesotans with disabilities and senior citizens are protesting a new state law that limits earnings for those on Minnesota’s Medicaid or Medical Assistance (MA) program. The state law change is tied to the federal Affordable Care Act. The change is being criticized by the state’s disability groups because it specifically leaves out Minnesotans with disabilities, while allowing other medical program participants to earn more.
The push to support fair health care policy for all is gaining momentum at the capitol and is expected to be a key focus during the rest of the 2013 legislative session. In a recent community alert, the Minnesotan Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) noted that the new law raising the income level leaves people with disabilities and seniors behind.
“Why should people with disabilities and seniors be forced to live in deeper poverty than fellow Minnesotans who are accessing the same health care system?” In the alert, MN-CCD stated “Why is the state budget being balanced by taking money from people who don’t have any to spare?” MN-CCD and ADAPT-MN are among the groups working to address the issue.
The objection centers on the fact that people with disabilities and seniors who don’t have earned income and who live on income from Social Security must give the state hundreds of dollars through a spend-down before they can gain access to the MA program.
One respondent on the MN-CCD blog stated, “People with disabilities have many barriers to finding employment of any kind, even if it’s trying to work through a temporary employment agency. How can one live on less? I have had epilepsy for over 49 years, and am unable at this time to get Social Security Disability. I have had to work at stopping foreclosure and have also dealt with two utility shutoffs this past winter as well as hospitalization after a fall.”
Attorney Anne Henry, who works for the Minnesota Disability Law Center, notes that the changes could force many people to live on less than $700 per month.
House File 1039 and Senate File 762 would bring persons with disabilities and seniors up to the new income limit, the same level as other Minnesota’s MA recipients will have in January 2014—138% of federal poverty guidelines or $1,278 per month.
Without the legislation, people with disabilities and seniors with income over 100% of the federal poverty guidelines will be left behind and remain at the current income limit of only 75% of the federal poverty guidelines to live on, $699 per month if it doesn’t pass. Under the Affordable Care Act the new income limit is described as 133% of federal poverty guidelines using Modified Adjusted Gross Income which includes a 5% income disregard, thus 138% of federal poverty guidelines.
Another bill section would require the Minnesota Department of Human Services to recommend how to increase the asset limit for persons with disabilities and people age 65 and older on MA. Senior citizens and persons with disabilities would remain limited to $3,000 per person in assets except those using the MA for Employed Persons with Disabilities (MA-EPD) program. MA-EPD participants could have up to $20,000 plus retirement savings.
However, if a person on MA-EPD loses their job for four months, the savings must be spent down to $3,000 in one month. Also, raising the asset limit is complicated for people on MA-EPD because some people live in long-term care facilities or group homes where room and board costs are covered and the others live independently in the community where room and board costs aren’t covered.
Yet another bill section addresses the issues of income and assets for married couples, when one spouse is receiving home and community-based services. This requires DHS to seek federal authority to allow home and community waiver participant who are married to disregard the non-disabled spouse’s income and assets.
The Affordable Care Act provision, which is called an “impoverishment provision,” currently only applies to those over age 65. The spousal impoverishment provision will be required of those under age 65 beginning in January 2014. This new requirement would cause a serious hardship or in the worst case, even divorce for many people with significant disabilities who are living at home with an employed spouse.
Updates on the bill can be found on the MN-CCD blog, at www.mnccd.org