Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, no one can deny the historical impact of this past week with the passing and signing of Obama’s Healthcare Reform Bill. Much debate has already taken place and will continue to take place in the coming months, as the first steps are taken to implement this giant Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act bill. Many of the most significant parts of the bill will not even go into effect until 2014, with others slated as far out as 2018. So, needless to say, it will be a long time before the success or failure of this legislation can be determined, and there are many holes to plug and tweaks to make along the way.
The impact of this bill will be felt by all Americans, but the group that arguably engages the healthcare system the most is the disabled community. This community has many faces. The young disabled veteran returning from Iraq and receiving care from the Veterans Administration (VA). The elderly grandmother who has had to experience the panic of realizing that any nonmedical related needs she might have following a severe illness, such as help bathing or safely accessing various parts of her home, Medicare will not cover. With nearly 50 million Americans having a disability, and about two-thirds of these individuals having a severe disability, it’s easy for an individual’s struggle with the healthcare system to get lost in translation. So how will the new legislation affect people with disabilities?
Some of the better known parts of the bill include discrimination and the denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions. This legislation will make being denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition a thing of the past, which will be of particular benefit to persons with disabilities who have long struggled against these obstacles. Other parts of the bill that hope to lower the cost of healthcare for millions, could inadvertently help people with disabilities by hypothetically creating more expendable income in that community and enable people with disabilities to purchase the mobility equipment and services necessary to live a full and productive daily life.
A lesser discussed provision to the Healthcare Reform Bill, is known as CLASS (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports). Here are some startling statistics provided by the Democratic Policy Committee:
- Long-term supports and services are not affordable or accessible for millions of Americans.
- An estimated 65 percent of those who are 65 today will spend some time at home in need of long-term care services, at an average cost of $18,000 per year. [Inquiry, 2005; Department of Health and Human Services, 10/22/2008]
- Five million people under age 65 living in the community have long-term care needs and over 70,000 workers with severe disabilities need daily assistance to maintain their jobs and their independence.
- One and a half million people are in nursing homes today. Roughly 9 million elderly Americans will need help with activities of daily living (ADLs) during the current year, and by 2030 that number will increase to 14 million.
- Many people who need long term services and supports rely on unpaid family and friends to provide that care, but ultimately are forced to impoverish themselves to qualify for Medicaid, which remains the primary payer for these services.
These statistics are known as the Persistent Long-Term Care Gap, and affects not only this country’s elderly, but anyone who has a catastrophic accident or illness and requires long-term care. Under the CLASS Program, every single American will be able to voluntarily participate in this self-funded, insurance program. Individuals qualify for benefits after paying premiums for five years, and must have worked for at least three of those five years. Beneficiaries receive a lifetime cash benefit, which is expected to pay roughly $75/day or more than $27,000 per year. Because this is a cash benefit, the money can be used to maintain independence at home through home modification equipment, cover the costs of home care services or assisted living, or even buy a wheelchair accessible van in order to meet the needs of daily life. Those who object to the Healthcare Reform Bill due to tax increases will also be relieved to know that there is an absolute prohibition on the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for this provision’s benefits.
The CLASS Program is expected to start in January 2011, so we will soon have answers to many unanswered questions about the program, and the Healthcare Reform in general. Regardless of political creed, the issue of healthcare is of crucial importance. As this bill, and undoubtedly the many revisions that are to follow, begin to unfold, let us hope that the needs and concerns of disabled adults and youth are heard.