WORKING DISABLED: Hse. Approves Incentives Improvement Act
In a "rare show of bipartisanship," the House yesterday approved 412-9 the Work Incentives Improvement Act, a measure that will allow people with disabilities to retain Medicare and Medicaid coverage after they reenter the workforce, the Wall Street Journal reports. The bill also expands eligibility for Medicaid and extends Medicare coverage for current recipients from four years to 10 years after they return to work (Murray, Wall Street Journal, 10/20). In addition, the bill allows states to provide Medicaid to workers who are not classified as disabled, but have medical problems that are "reasonably expected" to become severely debilitating. That provision will help people infected with HIV, who have not yet developed AIDS, as they will be able to afford the expensive anti-HIV medications through Medicaid (Pear, New York Times, 10/20). Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY), the bill's co-sponsor said, "This is the most dramatic breakthrough for Americans with disabilities since the  Americans with Disabilities Act" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/20). He added, "Our economy needs Americans with disabilities in the work force."
Although he was "extremely pleased" with the vote, President Clinton said that the House bill "has flaws," pointing to some of the measure's funding proposals (New York Times, 10/20). However, he urged Congress to address those concerns and send him the measure. He said, "Americans with disabilities who want to work should not have to wait any longer for that opportunity" (White House release, 10/19). "This bill is an attempt to adapt to modern reality," added Susan Prokop, associate advocacy director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (Wall Street Journal, 10/20). "Our message to the disabled is that we hear you, and we want to provide more opportunities," Rep. Kenny Hulsof (R-MO) said (New York Times, 10/20). Although the legislation was overwhelmingly approved, Democrats continued to assert that Republicans had "watered down" the bill, and that the House Ways and Means Committee had "par[ed] the bill back needlessly." And the committee's attempt to make certain parts of the Medicaid program discretionary rather than mandatory angered Commerce Committee Democrats who contended that they have jurisdiction over Medicaid. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the Commerce health and environment subcommittee, said that Ways and Means "broke the rules to fund the pieces of the bill they liked." The House and Senate must now schedule a conference to resolve the differences between each chamber's bill (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 10/20).