WID News Analysis
May 22, 2017
AHCA Will Be Detrimental to People with Disabilities
Members of Congress recently passed the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) with the goal of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”). The proposed legislation, if enacted, would drastically harm Medicaid by reducing eligibility, creating work requirements, and moving from federal matching funds to “block grants” for funding. These changes will jeopardize the health care of people with disabilities across the country and reduce the quality of care for people who remain on Medicaid. The AHCA with all its Medicaid rules need to be stopped in its tracks – and the disability community should fight it nationwide.
Rolling Back the ACA’s Medicaid Expansion
Medicaid is a health care program for poor, elderly and disabled residents that is run at the state level and uses a mix of state and federal funds to operate. It also is run using a mix of state and federal rules around eligibility, coverage and other means. Current rules allow Americans on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to disability and low income to receive full Medicaid coverage, and the ACA included a “Medicaid expansion” that has opened eligibility to people earning up to 133% of poverty, or around $16,080/year, in some states. People with disabilities have lower incomes and a higher rate of poverty than people without disabilities, and many may not receive SSI if they are doing some work or have a more limited disability, so a Medicaid expansion allows many in our community to have affordable health care and live safe lives.
Unfortunately, the AHCA would roll back this Medicaid expansion over the next several years and kick many people with low-to-moderate income off the program. Some research has found that people with lower income tend to work limited hours and are not eligible for employer health care, work with smaller companies that are not required to offer employer-covered health care, or otherwise work in industries that do not offer health care. This group also includes many people with disabilities, as they may have difficulty working full time or may have limited job opportunities. Medicaid provides vital health care for low-income people with disabilities in these situations – so reducing eligibility and kicking them off may eliminate their health care entirely. (This is especially true because under the AHCA, private insurers can charge much more for people with pre-existing conditions, so people who lose Medicaid likely won’t be able to afford private coverage at all.)
Work Requirements Target the Most Vulnerable
“Work requirements” will also create problems under the AHCA. The Affordable Care Act prohibited states from putting forward these requirements, which force Medicaid recipients who are deemed “able to work” to work a certain number of hours to keep their benefit. However, the AHCA will allow states to forego these requirements without any barriers. Research has shown that as of 2015, a full 59 % of Medicaid recipients who are able to work do, and 78% live in the household of somebody who does work. The rest may do informal and unpaid work, such as taking care of family members with disabilities or they may themselves have a disability that is not diagnosed or officially recorded and does prevent them from holding a regular job. People with disabilities likely make up a large share of Medicaid recipients who do not hold a job, so work requirements endanger this vital benefit.
A Bad Switch to Block Grants
The AHCA also changes how the federal government pays states from its current “matching funds” system over to block grants. Under the current rules, the federal government shares the costs with states: so for every $1 that states spend, the federal government reimburses them $0.50. Under block grants, though, the federal government gives states a fixed amount of money for their Medicaid program, and each state gets to decide how much extra it wants to spend, even if that is next-to-nothing. This is funded through a per capita system where funds are based or the number of Medicaid enrollees in each state. There are also block grants for certain populations or services which can vary state-by-state and be used to eliminate Medicaid coverage at many levels. These will combine to scale back the eligibility for Medicaid, as well as the services provided through Medicaid, as required and quality-of-care provisions will be taken away. This will affect all existing or potential Medicaid recipients in many states – and because people with disabilities have higher health-related costs, states may find ways to not cover vital health care services or just keep people with disabilities off the program entirely.
Speak Out Against the AHCA
The AHCA is extremely dangerous for people with disabilities. It jeopardizes the quality of coverage for our community and, for many of us, the ability to have health care at all. These three rules around Medicaid – rolling back the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, work requirements and block grants – will especially affect us, but there are plenty of others as well, such as the ability for insurance companies to charge more for pre-existing conditions, expanding the list of those conditions, and rolling back women’s health programs. However, AHCA has still not passed the Senate, and there are many opportunities to push back against its many problems. You can call your legislator, work with disability organizations, or even use social media to spread the word. So let’s fight for health care together and support our community’s right to health!
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