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Public Policy News and Action: Group Home Bill Moves, No Medicaid Expansion, Federal ABLE Act Reintroduced, Federal Regs Leave Out ABA

GA Front

This policy update contains both an update on the North Carolina General Assembly (state laws) as well as actions by the US Congress and federal regulators (federal laws).

North Carolina General Assembly Update

Group Home Bill Moves

House Bill 5, which would extend temporary funding to residents of group homes who no longer qualify for personal care services, passed the Senate and returns to the House where they are expected to concur. The Senate committee amended the bill so that the funding also extends to residents of special care units, who assist people with dementia. In addition, the new version of the bill would clarify several dates and make technical language changes. This bill is not a permanent fix to the problem, as the funding will end June 30th. The Autism Society of North Carolina (ASNC) is hopeful that the General Assembly will work on a permanent funding solution to make sure that people can remain in their community homes. Read more about the issue and the bill here  and here.

  • TAKE ACTION: Thank your NC General Assembly House member and NC General Assembly Senator for extending these funds for group homes which ensures that people will be able to stay in their homes.  Remember, NC House and NC Senate districts changed this year, so you should check to see which district you are in and who currently represents you in the General Assembly on the new easy to use district map page.

NC General Assembly Says They Will Not Expand Medicaid

The NC House and Senate have passed bills (H 16  and S 4 ) which would prevent NC from expanding Medicaid to cover an estimated 500,000 low income individuals who would not qualify for health insurance coverage subsidies from the Federal government that make insurance more affordable under the Affordable Care Act. Without subsidies, advocates are concerned than many of these individuals, which include single people with disabilities and families of children with special needs, will not be covered by health insurance. Rural hospitals and other health care providers have expressed concerns that without health coverage, and with the loss of Federal funds for those without health care, hospitals will bear high costs for people who show up needing emergency care. Governor McCrory has indicated that with the problems in Medicaid and without more assurances of long term funding from the Federal government, he does not support expanding Medicaid. Read more here and here.

  • TAKE ACTION: ASNC supports expanding Medicaid to cover low income people, including those with autism spectrum disorder and their families, to ensure they have access to basic health care services. You can contact Governor McCrory and encourage him to veto this legislation, and say yes to expanding Medicaid. The Secretary of NC Health and Human Services has told the Legislature that problems in the Medicaid program that were recently identified in a state audit will be fixed by the end of the fiscal year. Let’s make sure we don’t leave people without healthcare in the coming years.

U.S. Capitol

Federal and Congressional Update:

ABLE Act Reintroduced

The US Congress has reintroduced the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE Act) HR 647 which would allow individuals with disabilities and their families to set funds aside in tax free savings accounts (similar to 529 plans used to fund college educations) that could be used to help a individual with a disability with the costs of education, housing, transportation, technology assistance, and employment without adversely impacting means-tested Medicaid and Social Security benefits. These funds could be used in addition to those benefit programs and help people live more stable and economically independent lives.

ACTION: Senator Richard Burr has already signed on as co-sponsor of the Senate bill: please thank him. Urge Senator Kay Hagan to sign on to S 313 and ask your Representative in the US Congress to sign on to HR 647.  To find out who represents you in the US Congress go to the House page and to find out how to contact Senators Burr and Hagan got to the Senate page.

Federal Regulators Leave Out Autism Coverage

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed, it included the requirement to cover “behavioral health treatment.” Advocates worked with Congress to include this language in the bill to ensure coverage of autism therapies such as applied behavioral analysis (ABA). Recent federal regulations were released for coverage of behavioral health treatment in health care exchanges which are required under the ACA to act as a health care marketplace for those not currently covered by group health coverage. Despite significant advocacy by autism groups and families, these regulations unfortunately do not include autism therapies like ABA as part of the definition of “behavioral health treatment.”  This leaves many states that have passed autism insurance laws in recent years in limbo, with state regulators left with the decision of whether or not to include these therapies in their health care exchange marketplace. Read more on this at Disability Scoop.

In addition, the Federal government has decided not to define the habilitation benefit under the ACA rules. The definition of what is covered under habilitation services has been left up to individual states. ASNC, working with other advocates for people with special health care needs, submitted comments to the Federal government and the state Department of Insurance encouraging them to set a definition and a basic set of services for habilitation that would include services such as respite, hands-on care, one-to-one skill building, and other habilitative services that really make a difference in people’s lives. ASNC will continue to advocate on this issue and monitor the outcome of decisions about the healthcare that will be available through North Carolina’s health care exchange market.

  • TAKE ACTION: a North Carolina parent has created a nationwide White House petition to ask the President to respond to leaving ABA services out of federal regulations for the Affordable Care Act. Please sign the petition and share it with friends and neighbors, as well as through Facebook or other social media. You can sign the petition whether you agree with Obamacare or not: since the new health care law will be implemented next year, it should include services for those on the autism spectrum! The petition needs 100,000 signatures by March 24th so please sign now (You must register on the petition site to sign, but it’s worth it.)

To learn more contact Jennifer Mahan, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, at jmahan@autismsociety-nc.org.

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