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Medicaid eligibility to expand for disabled, seniors under new law

ST. LOUIS – Missouri’s elderly and those with other disabilities should find it easier to qualify for Medicaid – and keep a little more in their savings accounts – under legislation signed into law on Thursday.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed House Bill 1565, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, Thursday during a visit to St. Louis-based Paraquad, a non-profit organization whose mission calls for empowering people with disabilities to live more independently.

The bill is intended to make it easier for Missouri residents who are elderly, blind or disabled to qualify for Medicaid, including in-home and community-based services. The new law, which passed with bipartisan support in the state legislature, increases the asset limit to qualify for Medicaid coverage for such residents for the first time in more than 40 years.

“This will help thousands of Missourians live more independent lives,” Nixon said in a written statement. “These are folks who just want a chance to be responsible and save for the future, but a law written more than 40 years ago wouldn’t let them. Today, we’re doing something about that.”

Low asset limits in Missouri have historically compelled people with major disabilities to make difficult decisions, according to Paraquad president and CEO Aimee Wehmeier.

“Essentially, we had to choose between saving money and accessing necessary disability-related supports and services,” Wehmeier said. “In the past, being fiscally responsible and saving money meant losing Medicaid benefits, including health care, personal care services and reimbursements for durable medical equipment. Without these vital services, we would not be able to work or live independently. And without the ability to save money, we are not prepared for future health needs or personal emergencies.”

The current asset limit is $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for married couples living together. House Bill 1565 increases the annual limit, beginning in fiscal 2018, by $1,000 for an individual and $2,000 for couples living together until the respective limits reach $5,000 and $10,000 by fiscal 2021. Additionally, there will be a cost-of-living adjustment each year beginning in fiscal 2022.

It is estimated that the law will result in an additional 10,000 Missourians becoming eligible for Medicaid coverage.

In Nixon’s release, he said the new law continues a record of strengthening mental health and disability services during his tenure as governor. The release pointed to Nixon’s creation of Partnership for Hope, which provides home- and community-based services to Missourians with developmental disabilities and their families and his efforts to pass the law mandating the coverage of autism diagnosis and treatment.

Nixon also tauted the fact that, in 2015, United Cerebral Palsy ranked Missouri third in the nation – and second-most improved since 2007 – for providing quality services that are intended to improve the lives of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.