Earlier this week, lawmakers introduced bills to fix a “glitch” in the Affordable Care Act that would allow middle class early retirees to qualify for free Medicaid coverage. (The law excludes Social Security income when determining eligibility for exchange subsidies or Medicaid.) Fixing the glitch would save $13 billion, and Senators from both parties have introduced bills changing the revenue definition, and fixing the glitch. Problem solved, right?
Turns out that as with most things health care related the issue is more complicated. Advocates say that simply counting Social Security benefits as income would hurt people with disabilities. Some 1.8 million people receive Social Security disability benefits but aren’t eligible for Medicare, and the law in its current form would allow many of them to get onto Medicaid.
The problem dates back to 1972, when Congress extended Medicare to people with disabilities. In order to incentivize employers to continue covering disabled workers — and to save the government money — lawmakers required people with disabilities to wait two years before they became eligible for Medicare.
Lawmakers tried to close the two-year waiting period during the healthcare reform debate, but the $110 billion price tag proved insurmountable.
“It was too heavy a lift to do it with this bill,” said a spokeswoman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who for years has led the charge in the Senate to phase out the waiting period.
Advocates say the healthcare reform law might be the next best thing, however.
Many of the 1.8 million people in the waiting period would qualify for Medicaid if their Social Security benefits aren’t counted. Advocates say the long-term care services provided by Medicaid — help with getting dressed and eating, for example — are designed for people with disabilities.
The White House has said that it wants a fix that protects people with disabilities, so simply changing the income definition for everyone collecting SS isn’t going to cut it. We’ll keep you posted on how this plays out.