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Disabled Pennsylvanians have much to gain from health care ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the highly controversial Affordable Care Act could have a significant impact on people with disabilities in Pennsylvania, according to many advocates. With so many residents being denied Social Security disability insurance or the benefits to their employers' long-term disability plans, the changes to the nation's health care system offer some promise of finally gaining access to the care they need and deserve.

Some of the law's previsions could directly affect those with disabilities, such as the elimination of lifetime coverage limits on health insurance plans. These caps on benefits threatened people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, who worried about maxing out on their health plan benefits. No longer do these policy holders have to be concerned their coverage will run out.

One element of the law that's gotten even more publicity is the ban on higher rates or denial of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, including disabilities. Whereas some disabled people were deemed "uninsurable," countless others were told they could purchase an insurance plan that was well out of their financial reach. Under the Affordable Care Act, they will no longer be penalized for having a disability. What's more, health insurance plans will now be required to offer a menu of "essential benefits" that include mental health services, behavioral health treatment and a range of habilitation and rehabilitation services.

A provision that hasn't been as widely discussed establishes the Community First Choice Option, which offers Pennsylvania and other states increased federal matching funds to support community living. Considering the large number of people who rely on home- and community-based services, these increased funds are sorely needed.

One provision that didn't pass was a mandate for states to expand Medicaid to include people earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level, or almost $15,000 per year for a single person. The high court said the mandate couldn't be imposed, which could lead states to decide against Medicaid expansion. In that case, many would be denied access to health benefits because they earned too much.

Overall, however, disability advocates say the Affordable Care Act is the most significant piece of legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Even if you continue to be denied benefits through Social Security, your ability to afford health care promises to get much easier.

Source: Disability Scoop, "Health Care Ruling A Win, Disability Advocates Say," Michelle Diament, June 29, 2012

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