The Affordable Care Act and People with Disabilities
Too often, we fail to protect and support the needs of our fellow Americans with disabilities. Fortunately, that is not the case with the Affordable Care Act, whose anniversary we celebrate in today. One example of how health care reform benefits people with disabilities is by banning insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. This practice made it difficult—if not impossible—for people with disabilities to afford health insurance. But a provision in the Affordable Care Act that went into effect in 2010 bans insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and this protection will expand to cover all people with disabilities by 2014.
One of the central missions of the Affordable Care Act was to bend the so-called “cost curve” of health care by tackling issues that are positioned to drive up the costs of health care in the future. One of the major driving forces behind the cost curve is long-term care—the means by which individuals can pay for support services such as in-home aides. The Affordable Care Act initially included a voluntary long-term care health insurance program known as the CLASS Act. People were supposed to be able to begin paying into the program this coming fall, but in October 2011 Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced that the program would be discontinued because the Administration could not find a way to make it fiscally sustainable, as the Affordable Care Act required.
Although this announcement was a setback for health care advocates, there are other provisions that will help bend the cost curve while also improving care for people with disabilities. For example, increased funding for states to provide home- and community-based services, which are not only more cost effective but will also make it easier for people with disabilities to live independently, instead of in institutions such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The main provision in the Affordable Care Act that makes this possible is the Community First Choice Option, which provides states with financial incentives to use their Medicaid funds to pay for home- and community-based services instead of institutionalization.
These provisions are just a few examples of the ways that the Affordable Care Act will benefit people with disabilities, but we still have a way to go. As the Affordable Care Act is implemented further, it is crucial that we continue to support these programs that help people with disabilities participate in their communities and lead full, healthy lives.