As the 2007 legislative session begins, the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (MN-CCD) is set to propose a number of bills addressing key issues apparent in the lives of Minnesotans with disabilities.
Changes are needed. MN-CCD heard this over and over at last summer’s town hall forums. We also heard it at the polls in November. We heard that prescription drug costs have skyrocketed under Medicare Part D. We heard that seven counties in Minnesota do not offer accessible transportation and, since recent decreases in operating hours, it is difficult for people with disabilities to attend jobs or evening events. We heard that people with disabilities struggle to live off a meager income that is below the federal poverty guideline in order to qualify for Medical Assistance
MN-CCD is geared to act as a unified voice and use its resources to make changes possible. A broad-based coalition of 100 organizations of persons with disabilities, providers and advocates, MN-CCD is dedicated to addressing public policy issues that affect people with disabilities.
In order to strategize and correctly identify the key issues to propose in the 2007 legislative session, the MN-CCD developed a number of committees. Each committee presented position papers covering its major topic area. From these position papers, the coalition collaborated on which proposals to push to the agenda for the 2007 session. Five key proposals emerged for the 2007 Legislative Session:
• Transportation—Develop a transit plan to ensure services for people with disabilities for at least 14 hours per day in all 87 counties by 2010.
• Medicare—Seek state assistance for people enrolled in Medicare Part D who pay large out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.
• Medical Assistance—Increase the income and asset limits for Minnesotans enrolled in Medical Assistance.
• Employment—Ensure adequate funding for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities who may need to change careers.
• Family Caregivers—Develop training and support programs for family caregivers and create a family caregiver tax credit for families who provide a large portion of the care needs for people with disabilities.
The first two issues the MN-CCD will push in 2007 are transportation and Medicare Part D.
Transit opportunities are very limited for many people in greater Minnesota. Seven counties lack any type of public transit system accessible for people with disabilities. Other counties have service but the hours of operation are limited. For example, service ends in many communities by 5:00 p.m., preventing people with disabilities from attending evening functions or jobs.
In the Twin Cities, service hours are based on the geographic proximity to Minneapolis and St. Paul. In these core cities, Metro Mobility is available 24 hours a day. Generally, service hours become more limited the farther away people live from the Twin Cities. A new 2006 Minnesota law locks in the current Metro Mobility service area but does not establish a state guide for minimum hours of service.
Medicare Part D
Since the program began in January 2006, a common complaint has been the high cost of prescription drugs for people enrolled in the plan. The complaints are related to two aspects of the Medicare Part D plan: problems for those who are dual-eligible and problems for people not qualifying for low-income subsidy.
For people enrolled in both the Medicare and Medical Assistance programs (“dual-eligibles”), the $12/month cap on co-pays cap was eliminated Jan. 1, 2006. The MN-CCD has heard a number of stories of people having to pay $40 to $50 in drug co-pays while attempting to live on approximately $600 per month.
Another challenge is out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare enrollees with MS who don’t qualify for the low-income subsidy. The MN-CCD has heard from many people who didn’t qualify for the low-income subsidy but were left with less money at the end of the year than people who did qualify for the subsidy, simply because the high out-of-pocket costs. For example, if someone in this group is prescribed a disease-modifying prescription drug, they could pay more than $4,000 per year if they are enrolled in Medicare.
To learn more about Medicaid/MA issue, attend any of the MN-CCD Town Hall Forums in January (see box below). Individuals and families will be able to tell their personal stories, and both legislators and the community will be able to discuss challenges and solutions for the future of Medicaid and other issues affecting the disability community. FFI: Jessica Herrgott, 612-335-7966, firstname.lastname@example.org.