DISABLED WORKERS: Clinton Proposes New Health Benefits
President Clinton is expected today to announce a $2 billion, five-year initiative to encourage disabled Americans to return to work by extending their health coverage. The Wall Street Journal reports that while the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 calls for a tax credit and technology developments for disabled workers, the "centerpiece of the package" is a plan to expand Medicaid and Medicare to allow disabled workers to retain their health benefits when they return to work. "In a rare outbreak of bipartisanship," Clinton and Congress are jointly pushing for the bill outlined last year by Sens. James Jeffords (R-VT) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), chair and ranking Democrat, respectively, of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee (McGinley, 1/13). The measure picked up speed yesterday as it received the endorsements of Sens. William Roth (R-DE) and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), chair and ranking Democrat, respectively, of the Senate Finance Committee (Senate Special Committee On Aging release, 1/12).
What's At Stake
The proposal would encourage states to offer a Medicaid buy-in to disabled workers -- such as those with muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease, HIV or diabetes -- "who may be able to function and work with appropriate health care," but currently only receive benefits after their impairments become severe (Scales, Boston Globe, 1/13). The plan calls for a $150 million grant to states as an incentive to adopt the policy. In addition, the legislation would extend Medicare coverage for 10 years to disabled beneficiaries who return to work, guaranteeing their "basic health benefits, even if they live in states that don't allow the Medicaid buy-in." The package also includes a $1,000 tax credit for the working disabled to offset special transportation or special technology costs. The benefit is expected to help nearly 300,000 people, at a cost of $700 million over five years, according to administration officials. Further, Clinton plans to allocate $35 million to double spending in the next fiscal year on technology for disabled workers, "such as automatic captioning for people who are deaf" (Journal, 1/13).
Back In The Saddle
Calling the proposal the "most significant legislation affecting the disabled since President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990," the Boston Globe reports that if passed, the measure could send tens of thousands of disabled back into the workforce. Although the unemployment rate is at a 29-year low of 4.3%, White House officials indicate that the same figure climbs to 75% among working-age disabled adults (1/13). The plan aims to create competition among organizations that train disabled workers for jobs -- centers would receive bonuses for successful job placements, "reaping some of the savings that the government will realize from reduced disability payments" (Meckler, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/13).