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More MS news articles for July 2003

Medicaid buy-in plan aids workers with disabilities

July 3, 2003
By Chris Andrews
Lansing State Journal

People with disabilities will be able to work more, earn more and save more without losing their Medicaid benefits, under legislation signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday.

The new law gives people with disabilities the opportunity to keep their Medicaid coverage - paying part or all of the premium themselves - regardless of how much money they make.

Medicaid - health insurance for the poor and disabled - is a federal program that's partially funded by the state.

"It's a momentous act," said Marsha Moers, who has multiple sclerosis and works for the Capital Area Center for Independent Living.

"The Americans with Disabilities Act was the first step. This is the second step in allowing people with disabilities to become fully immersed in community life."

Granholm said the bill means people no longer will have to choose between working and health care.

"People love to work," she said. "It gives them value; it gives them dignity."

The program will take effect by Jan. 1.

Until then, people with disabilities lose eligibility for Medicaid if their income exceeds $22,450 a year or if their savings top $2,000. They also aren't eligible for retirement programs.

About 140,000 Michigan residents will be eligible to participate in the new program. Officials estimate that 6 percent to 20 percent will do so in the first year.

Under Michigan's Medicaid buy-in program, people with disabilities who earn more than $22,450 will be able to keep Medicaid by paying a premium on a sliding scale beginning at $50 a month.

Someone earning more than $75,000 would pay the full premium, which Department of Community Health spokeswoman Geralynn Lasher said would be $6,000 to $10,000 annually.

Moers, 61, works full time at the Capital Area Center for Independent Living but can't earn more than $22,450 without losing Medicaid benefits. She said she once had to turn down a $30,000 stipend so that she could stay on Medicaid, which provides personal assistance, such as help getting out of bed and dressing.

"I told them after today, they could pay me $75,000, but they declined my offer," she said.

Moers said the opportunity to accumulate more savings is a key part of the new law.

The law will allow people to have up to $75,000 in savings and an unlimited amount in retirement plans.

"If an appliance breaks down in my home, you just don't have the resources," Moers said.

"It really doesn't make any sense not to allow people to be as well off as they can be."

Budget analysts don't expect the program to cost taxpayers more because those eligible are already on Medicaid.

Concerns about medical care, including personal assistance, are considered a critical barrier to financial independence for people with disabilities.

Twenty-seven states have Medicaid buy-in programs, and three others are in the process of setting them up.

The two-bill package was sponsored by Sen. Shirley Johnson, R-Royal Oak, and Rep. Steve Ehardt, R-Lexington.

The MiJob Coalition, which pushed the program for the past three years, estimates that two-thirds of people with disabilities are unemployed, many because of health care issues.

Patrick Cannon, executive director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, said the new law is an important step toward putting more people to work.

"We know that we need to capture the best thinking and ideas of all of us, including people with disabilities," said Cannon, who is Granholm's adviser on disability issues.

Copyright © 2003, Lansing State Journal