Social Security Announces 2015 Cost of Living Increase for Beneficiaries

Today the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase for 2015. This modest increase will help preserve the buying power of Social Security benefits for nearly 64 million Americans, including many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who receive benefits under our nation’s Social Security system.

According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit will increase by $22, from $1,306 in 2014 to $1,328 in 2013. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security “disabled worker” beneficiary will increase by $19, from $1,146 in 2014 to $1,165 in 2015.

Higher Medicare premiums will offset some of this increase. Changes in Medicare premiums for 2015 are available at Medicare.gov.

Additionally, SSA today announced increases in important thresholds for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), including:

  • Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level – The SGA for SSDI and SSI will increase from $1,070 per month to $1,090 per month for non-blind beneficiaries, and from $1,800 per month to $1,820 per month for blind beneficiaries.
  • Trial Work Period (TWP) – The TWP for SSDI will increase from $770 per month to $780 per month.
  • SSI Federal Payment Standard – The SSI federal payment standard will increase for an individual from $721 per month to $733 per month, and for a couple from $1,082 per month to $1,100 per month.
  • SSI Student Earned Income Exclusion – The SSI student earned income exclusion monthly limit will increase from $1,750 to $1,780, and the exclusion’s annual limit will increase from $7,060 to $7,180.

Annual cost-of-living adjustments ensure that Social Security beneficiaries do not see their buying power eroded by inflation. SSDI and SSI benefits are modest, averaging only about $1,145 per month for SSDI beneficiaries in the “disabled worker” category and $535 per month for SSI beneficiaries. Every penny and every dollar counts for people who rely on these benefits to get by.

The Arc strongly supports ensuring adequate benefit levels, and has joined other national organizations to oppose proposals to reduce these much-needed annual cost-of living increases. Subscribe to The Arc’s Capitol Insider for updates to learn how you can help make sure that Social Security, SSI, and other vital supports are there for people with I/DD.

The Arc’s Statement on The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013

The Arc released the following statement in response to Congressional leaders reaching a budget agreement negotiated by Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 would set discretionary spending for the current fiscal year at $1.012 trillion (about halfway between the Senate budget level of $1.058 trillion and the House budget level of $967 billion).

This agreement will help preserve programs that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) rely on, restore order to the federal budget and appropriations process, and reduce the deficit by between $20 and $23 billion. Additionally the agreement provides $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, that will be split equally between defense and non-defense programs, which will prevent further cuts to important programs.

“While The Arc is pleased that the budget agreement did not make major changes to our lifeline programs including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, we are concerned about what appears to be the expansion of the state Medicaid agencies’ ability to recoup costs from settlements from Medicaid beneficiaries.  This could affect payments owed to individuals and families who have been harmed, received compensation, and depend on the compensation to pay for expenses beyond what Medicaid covers.  Allowing a state Medicaid agency to recover ‘any payments’ by a third party with legal liability (rather than just those payments for health care items and services, as under current law) would leave beneficiaries without coverage for other basic necessities,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Reacts to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on the Affordable Care Act

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been waiting for generations for the insurance reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act.  Today’s ruling removes any doubts that the law Congress enacted should stand and will benefit millions of people with and without disabilities.  It ends discriminatory insurance practices and makes health coverage more affordable and accessible – important protections which too many people with disabilities have been deprived of for too long.

“But the ruling is not perfect for people with I/DD.  The Arc is concerned that disallowing the federal government the ability to withhold Medicaid dollars from states that don’t expand their program to cover more of the uninsured might mean that people with I/DD who would have benefitted from the expansion could be left behind.  Medicaid is an incredibly important lifeline for people with I/DD, providing health care and long term services and supports.

“We will carefully watch how states react to this development and encourage our advocates across the country to put pressure on their state leaders to do the right thing and expand their Medicaid program,” said Marty Ford, Director of Public Policy for The Arc.

Top Reasons Why The Arc Supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Health insurance Reforms in the ACA

  • Eliminates pre-existing condition exclusions
  • Bans annual and lifetime limits
  • Ends the practice of rescissions (insurance coverage is cancelled when a person develops a serious health condition)
  • Improves appeals process including independent reviews
  • Requires that 80% of health insurance premium dollars are paying for health care
  • Enhances state capacity to regulate unfair increases in insurance rates
  • Prohibits considering health status in calculating premiums (2014)
  • Requires guaranteed issue and renewals (2014)
  • Prohibits discrimination based on health status (2014)

The ACA Expanding Access to Coverage

  • Establishes temporary high risk pools to cover those who are currently uninsured (until 2014)
  • Allows coverage for dependents until age 26
  • Creates health insurance Exchanges for individuals and small employers to purchase insurance (2014)
  • Provides significant subsidies to assist low income individuals to purchase coverage in the Exchanges and provides tax credits to help small employers
  • Includes coverage of dental and vision care for children in the Exchanges
  • Includes mental health services, rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices, and other critical disability services in the health plans sold in the Exchanges

The ACA Expands Medicaid

  • Expands Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level
    • New method of income disregards
    • No asset test
  • 16 million new beneficiaries by 2019
  • Federal government pays 100% till 2016 (phase down to 90% in 2020)

The ACA and Long Term Services and Supports

  • Establishes the Community First Choice Option for states to cover comprehensive community attendant services under the state’s optional service plan
  • Improves existing Section 1915(i) option for home and community based services
  • Creates a new state balancing incentives to reduce institutional bias of Medicaid
  • Extends “Money Follows the Person” Demonstration
  • Authorizes the CLASS program

Other Medicaid and Medicare Improvements

  • Gives states the option to provide health homes for Medicaid enrollees with chronic conditions
  • Allows a free annual Medicare well visit with assessments and individualized prevention plan
  • Eliminates Medicare Part D (drug coverage) co-pays for dual eligibles receiving waiver services
  • Improves Medicare Part D access to key anti-seizure, anti-anxiety and anti-spasm medications

Selected Prevention, Provider Training, Data Collection and Accessibility Issues Addressed by the ACA

  • Eliminates co-pays for critical prevention services
  • Creates the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) to provide new funding for transformational investments in promoting wellness, preventing disease, and other public health priorities
  • Increases opportunities for training of health care providers (including dentists) on the needs of persons with developmental and other disabilities
  • Authorizes new training programs for direct support workers who provide long term services and supports
  • Improves data collection on where people with disabilities access health services and where accessible facilities can be found
  • Adds disability as a category to measure health disparities and in health care quality reporting surveys
  • Requires the establishment of criteria for accessible medical diagnostic equipment

Key disability Data Regarding Access to Health Care

According to the Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)

15% of the uninsured have at least one disability (HHS/ASPE Analysis of 2010 CPS self-reported data)

12% of uninsured adults with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level report limited ability to work or unable to work (Urban Institute Analysis of 2006 MEPS data)

Altman, B. Bernstein A. Disability and health in the United States, 2001-2005.  Hyattsville, MD National Center for Health Statistics 2008

  • Adults 18-64 with cognitive difficulty, 13.6 % had no insurance, 32.1% private insurance, 41.0% Medicaid, and 27.0% Medicare.
  • Adults 18-64 with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to have private health insurance coverage – 46.3% for those with complex activity limitation and 61.3% with basic actions difficulty (61.3%) compared to 75.2% with no disability.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Children with Special Health Care Needs in Context: A Portrait of States and the Nation 2007.  Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011.

  • Children with special health care needs – 29. 4% had inadequate coverage compared to 22.1% of children without special health care needs. Inadequate insurance is a far more prevalent problem than gaps in insurance or lack of insurance among children with special health care needs. (29.4% inadequate insurance whereas 12.3% had gaps in insurance or no insurance).
  • Children with special health care needs have unmet needs for specialty medical care—27% had problems accessing specialists and of the children with emotional, behavioral or developmental conditions, 48.4% did not receive mental health services.

Children with special health care needs are defined in the National Survey of Children’s Health as those who have one or more chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions for which they require an above routine type or amount of health and related services.   14-19% of children in the U.S. meet this need.

Reaction from The Arc on The Super Committee Not Reaching a Deal

Washington, DC – As the nation’s largest organization working on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), The Arc’s CEO Peter V. Berns released the following statement on today’s announcement that Members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction have not reached a deal to reduce the nation’s deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years.

“Throughout the Committee’s process, The Arc advocated for protecting Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security because the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of people with disabilities. It is disappointing that the Committee could not come to an agreement that would have protected these critical programs while ensuring significant revenues were part of the solution. Unfortunately, no deal at the moment leaves lots of unknowns for the rest of the programs on which people with disabilities rely on to live independent lives.

“The Arc believes we must strengthen the economy while protecting the lifelines of people with disabilities, and to honor that commitment, bring in sufficient revenues to provide necessary services. We appreciate Members of Congress who stood their ground and opposed deep cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

“We recognize that this was a missed opportunity, when Members of Congress could have worked across party lines and found a solution to a deficit and revenue problem facing us all – young and old, people with disabilities and without, wealthy and poor. It will take a true bipartisan effort to ensure a secure future for people with disabilities, the elderly, and low income people. Individuals with disabilities, their families, and the professionals who support them will continue to monitor the budget process and advocate for their lifeline.”

The Arc Commends the U.S. Senate for Voting Down Disastrous Budget for People with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – Late yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted down a federal spending plan that could have disastrous consequences for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  Leading up to the vote, The Arc, the nation’s largest and oldest human services organization for the I/DD community serving more than a million people with I/DD individuals and their families, opposed this legislation because it would cut $750 billion over 10 years out of Medicaid and end the program as a guaranteed benefit by turning it into a “block grant” that leaves cash-strapped states to fill in the funding gaps with very little oversight.

“The U.S. Senate’s vote put the brakes on a disastrous budget proposal for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  As Congress and the nation continue to debate how to promote economic recovery and tackle our deficit, it can’t be done on the backs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The House of Representatives passed this budget plan, known as the Ryan Plan after its author, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, in April. The bill includes drastic cuts and changes to:

  • Medicaid: Cuts $750 billion over 10 years and ends Medicaid as a guaranteed benefit by turning it into a “block grant” that leaves cash-strapped states to fill in the funding gaps with very little oversight.
  • Medicare: Replaces Medicare with a voucher program for younger beneficiaries that will certainly provide less than the current system.
  • Discretionary Programs: Eliminates, over time, most federal government programs outside of health care, Social Security, and defense as the cuts are so deep.
  • Health Care Reform: Repeals and defunds the Affordable Care Act.

The $4.3 trillion from all of these cuts would be used to provide $4.2 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years without tackling the nation’s deficit.

For people with I/DD, these cuts would have a huge impact on their health and lives. People with I/DD could be denied health insurance coverage, home and community based services, supportive housing, job training, education, transportation, and other services. Medicaid currently funds 78% of services for individuals with I/DD.

President Obama Provides Clear Alternative on the Budget

Preserving Safety Net for Most Vulnerable, Not Tax Breaks for Millionaires

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Arc’s Chief Executive Officer Peter V. Berns issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s George Washington University address:

“President Obama today reaffirmed his commitment to reducing the federal deficit while holding true to our most cherished American values.  We believe that the President’s plan to preserve our vital safety net programs – Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – is more balanced and fair than the plan advanced by the House Budget Committee. Instead of relying on cuts to vital programs for the most vulnerable Americans, the President is proposing to raise revenues by ending the unfair tax advantages enjoyed by the richest individuals and corporations in America and balancing the spending cuts.”

“We take heart in hearing the President’s frequent mention of people with disabilities in his speech.  This shows that he understands that the over 7 million Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities will be among those most harmed by the House Budget plan to block grant Medicaid, end Medicare as we know it, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and decimate funding for housing, education, transportation and employment programs by making deep cuts over time. We appreciate the President’s call to stand for the rights of people with disabilities.”

The Arc to Congress – House Budget Plan for 2012 Will Wreak Havoc in Lives of People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and their Families

Washington, DC – The Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal released this week by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) , if adopted, would cause great harm to the more than 7 million people in the United States with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  The plan would virtually eliminate federal funding for education, housing, job training, transportation, and other domestic spending.  Eliminating Medicaid and Medicare and replacing them with a block grant and vouchers threaten to wipe out much of the progress that people with ID/D have achieved over the last several decades. Our constituents could return to the widespread impoverishment, poor health, and isolation not seen since these entitlement programs were created in 1965.

“Under Chairman Ryan’s plan, people with I/DD can be denied health insurance and the services and supports they need to live and work in the community. There will be no guarantees of any assistance or support for people with intellectual disabilities who want to continue to live in their own homes, rather than institutions,” stated Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

Health Insurance.  Medicaid and Medicare are overwhelmingly the largest providers of health insurance for people with disabilities.  People with I/DD would no longer be entitled to Medicaid to pay for their health care services such as prescription drugs and doctor visits. Many people with I/DD cannot get medical insurance through the private market because: 1) they do not work full time and cannot obtain employer-sponsored coverage (only 21% of people with all disabilities are working); 2) they have pre-existing conditions and cannot find health insurers who will sell them policies; 3) if they can find insurers to sell them policies, the policies do not cover the services and products they need (or the coverage is exorbitantly expensive).  Under the House plan, both states and private insurers will be free to deny coverage and assistance to people with I/DD.

Long Term Services and Supports.  People with I/DD often require assistance with activities of daily living throughout their lifetimes, such as getting dressed, taking medication, preparing meals, and managing money.  Over 650,000 people with I/DD receive such long-term services paid for by Medicaid while living at home with their families, in other community-based settings, or in intermediate care facilities.  Under the House plan, states could be free to discontinue all of these services.

While there are numerous parts of the FY 2012 budget plan that are of grave concern, the proposal to block grant Medicaid is by far the most egregious.  Under a block grant system, states will be faced with the rising health care costs that result from population increases, outbreaks of diseases, and economic downturns or other circumstances.  Their only options will be to cut people off the Medicaid rolls, to eliminate necessary services, or to reduce provider payments. For people with I/DD, that means that they won’t be able to go to the doctor or obtain prescription medications they need.  Their very health and well being is at stake.  Block granting also creates a perverse incentive for states to return to the days where they warehoused people with disabilities in institutions to save money. States will no longer have to meet the quality standards currently imposed by the Medicaid program for community-based services or nursing homes.

The Arc appreciates the importance of reining in the federal deficit.  However, we believe that the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  There are far more thoughtful, effective and humane ways to accomplish this critical goal.  We know that providing home and community-based services is more cost effective and better for the individual than institutional care and we do not want to go backwards.  What is needed is to flip the system on its head and make home and community based services what is required and institutions the exception to the rule.

“The current situation is bad enough now, where people with I/DD literally wait 10 years or more to get Medicaid home and community based services.  Is Congress really just going to cut them off entirely from services that allow them to be included and participate in society like we all do?  What the House is proposing is just wrong!  It is that simple.” said Berns.

The Arc is the largest organization with a network of over 700 chapters across the country
for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc promotes and protects
the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively
supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes
and without regard to diagnosis.

Home is in the Community

Most people with I/DD share the dream of living in the community in a home of their own.  For some, that dream may become a reality.

Earlier this week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the federal government will dedicate billions of dollars to help individuals with disabilities access care in the community as opposed to institutions.

“There is more evidence than ever that people who need long-term care prefer to live in their own homes and communities whenever possible,” said Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “To restrict these individuals to institutions where even the simplest decisions of the day such as when to get up, what to eat and when to sleep are made by someone else must no longer be the norm.”

HHS is also proposing new rules to allow states to access additional federal Medicaid matching funds if they encourage individuals to live in a community setting, as opposed to a nursing home or other institutional setting.

Thirteen states are slated to receive about $45 million for demonstration grants this year, with $621 million budgeted through 2016.   Federal officials are awarding $621 million over the next five years to expand the Money Follows the Person to help people with disabilities who are living in institutions transition into the community with services and supports programs.

The new grants will have an impact on 13,000 people in Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia.

The Arc believes that adults with I/DD should have the opportunity to lead lives of their own choosing, reside in the community and to live independently with ready access to whatever services and supports they need to be included and participate as full members of the community.