Adding Penury To Injury

Harold Pollack explains how Medicaid forces millions of people with disabilities to live in poverty in order to remain eligible:

With important variations across the states, most recipients are forbidden from having more than two or three thousand dollars in the bank. You can generally keep your house or your car. That’s pretty much it. You can’t have that emergency fund on hand in case the muffler or the furnace breaks.

And what about the stuff Medicaid doesn’t cover? It’s nice to get your teeth cleaned or just to buy a Big Mac every once in awhile. Because of such means-testing, that new mother is forbidden from setting any money aside for her child’s education. That food services worker living with intellectual disabilities can’t save up for a nice vacation. …

These requirements seem especially strange in the wake of health reform. If you’re on Medicaid because you had a spinal cord injury, you face punishing limitations on your allowable financial assets. If you qualify for Medicaid on the basis of low-income, you don’t face the same limitations. There’s no real justification for this inconsistency. Its one virtue may be that it could prove politically generative, in promoting beneficial reforms. It’s hard to believe that the disability community or the American public will long tolerate this discrepancy.

The 2013 Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which is on the legislative agenda again this year, is intended to mitigate this catch-22.