For people with disabilities finding a job has always been a one-two punch. It's not just the salary and financial independence they're looking for; they also are in greater need of health benefits than say, a nondisabled 30-year old.
October 1 marks the first day that people with disabilities can finally get both needs met. Under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, many of the barriers to private health care for persons with disabilities will disappear. Americans can now shop for benefits in the new health insurance marketplace, for coverage beginning January 1, 2014.
For the first time ever, people with disabilities cannot be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, denied particular services or charged more for coverage based on their health status. Many health plans have to cover certain preventive services like routine vaccinations. And the ACA limits the ability of insurers to cap annual services on patients.
The ACA undeniably changes the paradigm for working-age people with disabilities, who now do not need to choose between healthcare and a job. If an employer doesn't offer insurance, the Marketplace will, with plans starting at less than $100 a month. No longer does a person with a disability need to rely on Medicaid, the free state healthcare program for low-income people where the income requirement is so stringent that not even a full-time McJob would be allowed.
The new law also takes some of the burden off employers, too. Employers hiring people with disabilities can be assured that rates will not rise. All health insurance plans will be required to offer a standard set of benefits like hospital care and doctors' visits, as well as cover services like medication, therapy and rehabilitation services, which people with disabilities need throughout their lifetime. There will be limits on rate increases and co-pays. Small employers with fewer than 50 full-time workers can also purchase coverage through the Marketplace.
What's more, 25 states and the District of Columbia have kicked in with their own programs to provide extra coverage to workers if the benefits a company offers are too "basic" for a person's unique disability needs. These special plans wrap around private employer-based coverage.
And an optional program known as Medicaid Buy-In allows workers with a disability in 42 states and the District of Columbia to retain Medicaid coverage and pay health premiums on a sliding fee scale based on their income. Medicaid buy-in programs are geared toward higher-paid workers, for whom a salary truly trumps federal assistance.
As always, our mission at Think Beyond the Label is to increase the percentage of working-age Americas with disabilities in the workforce. The ACA will help us to be more successful at connecting qualified workers to the employers that want to hire them. No longer will a job seeker need to ask: Does my employer offer insurance? Is the plan comprehensive enough to take care of my disability? Will my health needs be better met through federal and state programs that discourage work?
The ACA makes business and economic sense, too. Less reliance on federal disability insurance programs that limit work (and cost billions of dollars a year to run). Less concerns from employers -- especially small employers -- about how to pay for coverage for a person with a disability. More opportunity for all Americans to achieve financial independence and make a significant economic contribution -- to pay for important life goals like starting a family, buying a house and sending kids to college.
Though the law may have passed under President Obama, it was Ronald Reagan who asked, "How can we love our country and not...reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they're sick, and provide opportunity to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?" The ACA does just this, providing an innovative approach that will give millions of people with disabilities a chance to live the American dream, without sacrificing their critical healthcare needs.