There are an estimated five to six million disabled children enrolled in Medicaid, and the overwhelming majority of them won’t be eligible for disability benefits under the proposed Senate health care bill, which is still being negotiated. The bill would transform Medicaid from an open-ended entitlement to a program in which each recipient is limited by a spending ceiling, but it makes an exception for a select number of children who meet a narrow “blind or disabled” requirement. Under the proposed bill, just 1.2 million disabled children will have their medical expenses fully paid for by the federal government.
In order to meet the blind or disabled requirement, potential recipients must prove they have “marked and severe functional limitations” that are either fatal or will last for at least a year, the Washington Post reports. Disabled children who qualify for Medicaid but don’t meet this requirement will still be partially covered, but they’ll receive the same amount of funding as non-disabled children enrolled in Medicaid, even though their medical bills are typically higher. Medical experts and disability advocates told the Post these limitations will place severe financial burdens on low-income families whose children are disabled but unable to meet the disability requirement imposed by the bill.
“Absent those supports paid for by Medicaid, the only option many families will have is institutionalization,” Meg Comeau, researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health’s Catalyst Center, told the Post. “You’ll see kids going into pediatric nursing homes, kids not being able to be discharged from hospitals.”
This version of the bill isn’t final, and a Republican Senate aide told the Post that several conservative lawmakers want to exempt all disabled children from the spending limits. Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey said a new version of the bill will be unveiled today, and that the latest iteration was reworked to appeal to both moderates and conservatives. (A Republican congressional aide told The Hill there’s “no expectation” the bill will be released to the public today.)