Now is the time for individuals who are uninsured or looking for affordable health insurance to investigate the private health insurance plans available through state marketplaces (to find your state information visit the health care website). During “open enrollment”, a person can purchase private health insurance through the marketplace in each state. There may also be financial assistance to help with health care costs available for low and moderate income. It is also important for people who currently have insurance through the marketplace, to look at the plan and determine if it will continue to meet the needs of the person, or select a better plan. Individuals who do not take action will be automatically re-enrolled in the current plan. Re-enrollment is also an important opportunity for people to report any changes in income.
Last week, the Joint Economic Committee held a hearing on “Ensuring Success for the Social Security Disability Insurance Program and its Beneficiaries.” Witnesses were Patrick O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General of the Social Security Administration; Mark Duggan, the Trione Director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professor of Economics at Stanford University; and Rebecca Vallas, Director of Policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Visit the Joint Economic Committee web site for testimony and to view archived video of the hearing.
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), co-chairs of the House Bipartisan Disability Caucus, introduced the Lifespan Respite Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3913) on November 3. The bill would reauthorize the Lifespan Respite program through 2020 at an authorization level of $15 million per year (an amount well above its present $2.3 million annual appropriation). This program implements statewide systems of coordinated, community-based respite for family caregivers caring for individuals regardless of age or type of disability. Read a summary of the bill here.
Late last week, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (HR 1314) providing a measure of relative budgetary stability after months of uncertainty. President Obama signed the measure today. The legislation suspends the debt limit until March 15, 2017 and contains a number of provisions that are relevant to the disability community:
- Reallocating Social Security payroll taxes on a temporary basis, to allow Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to pay full promised benefits until the third quarter of 2022. This action will prevent the 20% cut in SSDI that had been projected at the end of 2016. The legislation also includes a number of provisions that seek to enhance payment accuracy and program administration, and authorizes a demonstration project that would test a new SSDI benefit offset to test ways to end the SSDI “cash cliff” for beneficiaries attempting to work.
- Raising the spending caps on discretionary programs. The caps on defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) accounts will be raised by $80 billion above the sequester level for fiscal year 2016 and fiscal year 2017. Many disability-related programs (such as housing, education, and employment) fall under the NDD funding category which will increase by approximately 5% for both fiscal years.
- Limiting the expected increase in 2016 Medicare Part B premiums for the 30% of beneficiaries not already protected from the increase.
- Repealing a provision of the Affordable Care Act that required employers with more than 200 employees to automatically enroll new employees in a health insurance plan if one is offered. This provision had not yet been implemented.
Read a section-by-section analysis of the bill here.
On Wednesday, the Joint Economic Committee will hold a hearing on “Ensuring Success for the Social Security Disability Insurance Program and its Beneficiaries.” Witnesses will include Patrick O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General of the Social Security Administration; Mark Duggan, the Trione Director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and the Wayne and Jodi Cooperman Professor of Economics at Stanford University; and Rebecca Vallas, Director of Policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Visit the Joint Economic Committee web site for more information.
Citing a nation-wide trend to increase home and community based services (HCBS) for people with I/DD, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently ruled on the contested closure of Murray Developmental Center (Murray DC). The court held that Illinois could move forward with closing the facility. The ruling cited a growing number of studies that show that people with disabilities experience a higher quality of life in community-based settings as opposed to facility-based care. The ruling in its entirely may be viewed here.
Last Friday, in a vote of 240 to 189, the House of Representatives approved a bill which, if enacted, would repeal major portions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These would include the individual responsibility provisions, employer responsibility provisions, as well as the Prevention and Public Health Fund. This legislation would also reverse taxes on medical device manufacturers and high cost health insurance plans. Additionally, the bill prohibits federal funding of Planned Parenthood for one year. The bill will now be sent to the Senate. It is a reconciliation bill which can pass the Senate with a simple majority. The President has announced that he would veto the legislation.
On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Finance will hold a hearing on “Welfare and Poverty in America.” Witnesses will be Pamela Loprest, Labor Economist and Senior Fellow, Income and Benefits Policy Center, Urban Institute; Aretha J. Jackson, disabled veteran and TANF recipient; H. Luke Shaefer, Associate Professor, School of Social Work and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Jon Pierpont, Executive Director, Utah Department of Workforce Services, Salt Lake City, Utah. Visit the Committee web site to view testimony and live video the day of the hearing.
Last week, the Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) held a public hearing on the proposed rules for implementation of the Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014. Speakers included Marty Ford of The Arc, representatives of other major disability advocacy organizations, and representatives of state treasurer’s offices and college savings plan administrators. Speakers fielded questions from representatives of the Treasury Department and IRS. Most speakers stressed the need for a streamlined enrollment process and administrative simplicity. The Department of Treasury and the IRS will now consider all written and oral comments and issue final regulations in the coming months.
Last week, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that there will be no cost-of-living increase for Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in 2016. The Social Security Act provides for annual increases in Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI), Disability Insurance (DI), and SSI benefits based on inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Because the CPI-W decreased over the last year, there will be no increase in Social Security or SSI benefits in 2016. However, as noted in a statement by The Arc’s Senior Executive Officer for Public Policy, Marty Ford, many beneficiaries will still face increases in costs such as out-of-pocket medical expenses and housing. SSA also announced that two important thresholds for Social Security and SSI beneficiaries with disabilities will increase in 2016: the Substantial Gainful Activity level for non-blind individuals will increase from $1,090 per month in 2015 to $1,130 per month in 2016, and the Trial Work Level will increase from $780 per month in 2015 to $810 per month in 2016. The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet announced Medicare premium changes for 2016. Because there is the “hold harmless” provision in Medicare Part B, premiums for about 70 percent of beneficiaries will not increase for OASI or DI beneficiaries. Medicare Part B beneficiaries who are not held harmless (generally higher income beneficiaries and those newly enrolled) may face premium increases of up to 52 percent.