(By Christen Smith | The Center Square) – Workers with disabilities in Pennsylvania can now earn up to $61,000 annually before losing access to some of their medical assistance benefits.
Act 69 became law on July 1 and nearly doubles the $32,000 income cap for the program in an attempt to address widespread unemployment and underemployment for recipients often forced to choose between maintaining coverage and accepting a higher paying job.
Rep. Katie Klunk, R-Hanover, sponsored a version of the legislation in the House and said she was inspired by a man she knew who lived with a “debilitating” medical condition that required ongoing care.
“When he returned to work, he found he would make too much money to qualify for the needed medical services covered by MAWD [Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities],” she said. “Instead of returning to the position he loved, he opted to take a position that pays less in order to continue to contribute while also receiving much-needed services.”
Klunk and her co-sponsor, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh, said 35% of disabled recipients in the program work and just 21% report full-time employment. Others refuse marriage because their partner’s assets would lead to disqualification.
“For people who require support to get dressed in the morning, getting into their wheelchairs, and meeting other basic necessities of daily living, Medicaid is the sole way to get those needs met,” Klunk said. “That means qualified, hard-working, capable employees must set aside ambition.”
The “Catch-22” many recipients find themselves in is “the opposite of what our public policy should do,” she added.
“That means that families are being denied needed income, individuals are being denied fulfilling professional lives and our communities are being denied the talents of very capable and willing workers,” she said.
Under the new law, workers that earn more than $61,000 won’t lose coverage either. Instead, they’ll contribute more of their earnings to cover their services. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that these changes will expand coverage for 1,000 residents.