The Disability Policy Plans for 2020 Presidential Candidates: Joe Biden

Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for US President in the 2020 election. His campaign recently published a detailed, 20-page plan for addressing issues related to people with disabilities. Below, I discuss those highlights of his plan that are most likely to affect people with multiple sclerosis.

I have contacted the Trump campaign regarding their policy on disability issues. If and when they release such a plan, I will discuss it here, in detail.

A note about the plans presented during a campaign

Keep in mind that plans presented during a presidential campaign are notoriously optimistic, even if the candidate is elected. The US federal government is complex, and although the president has significant power, in most cases, he or she must garner support from the opposing party to enact legislation.

The Biden Plan for Full Participation and Equality for People with Disabilities — highlights for people with MS

  • Make high-quality, affordable health care available to everyone, building upon the Affordable Care Act. This includes specific efforts to lower costs for people with disabilities. Note that Biden is not calling for a Universal Healthcare plan or Medicare-for-all, as other Democratic candidates did.
  • Improve access to long-term services and supports. Do this "in the most integrated setting appropriate to each person's needs and based on self-determination."
  • Ensure people with disabilities are considered when developing policy by creating a senior-level position in the White House dedicated to the disabled community.
  • Defend and strengthen the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the cornerstone legislation for disability rights in the United States.
  • Nominate judges who support disability rights. It is the privilege of the sitting president to nominate federal judges. Biden will nominate individuals to the judiciary who are committed to the rights of people with disabilities.
  • Affirm the right of people with disabilities to self-direct services. Persons with disabilities will be able to decide upon their own home and community-based services, "including the right to hire family members as support workers."
  • Invest in the direct care workforce. "Biden will ensure that people with disabilities receive support from direct care professionals who earn a living wage, have access to affordable health care, and do not have to get a second job to pay household bills."
  • Work with Congress to secure permanent reauthorization of and investing in the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program. The MFP program helps people with disabilities remain in their homes and communities rather than being institutionalized.
  • Fully implement the HCBS Final Rule to ensure that community services for people with disabilities do not look like institutional services.
  • Make HCBS Spousal Impoverishment Protections permanent to enable "people with disabilities who need a higher level of care to qualify for long-term care through Medicaid while their spouse is permitted to retain a certain level of income and assets."
  • Provide assistance and funding for jobs that allow people with disabilities to perform with reasonable accommodations while working alongside workers who do not have disabilities.
  • Increase tax credits to employers, including small businesses, to employ people with disabilities.
  • Eliminate the five-month waiting period for SSDI and two-year waiting period for Medicare. I’ve written extensively about this in my blog and in my memoir. Under the current system, these waiting periods place an undue burden on individuals who are already suffering from medical setbacks.
  • Eliminate the “benefit cliff” for SSDI. Earnings limits for individuals receiving Social Security Disability Insurance payments discourage people from seeking employment or internships, for fear of losing their benefits.
  • Reform the SSI program so that it doesn’t limit beneficiaries’ freedom to marry whom they choose or live where they choose. Individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income should not be restricted from certain life choices in order to receive benefits.
  • Expand access to tax-advantaged savings accounts, ABLE accounts, "which provide people with disabilities a way to pay for 'qualified disability-related expenses, such as education, housing, and transportation.'”
  • Reverse damage done to Social Security rules by the Trump Administration. President Trump announced changes for people with disabilities requiring many to re-verify their disability every two years, an unnecessary burden for many individuals.
  • Fully enforce protections in housing for people with disabilities. Biden will fully enforce a group of existing laws prohibiting discrimination in housing based on disability.
  • Expand access to supportive housing and services for individuals with disabilities. A Biden Administration will increase the availability of supportive and accessible housing for individuals with disabilities.
  • Implement policies to address barriers to accessible transportation. Biden will increase federal funding for accessible transportation.
  • Ensure new modes of transportation, including autonomous vehicles, incorporate the needs of people with disabilities.
  • Ensure that air travel is accessible to people with disabilities. Biden will buttress the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and other programs to ensure that people with disabilities can travel on airlines with dignity and accessibility.

Note about this overview:

This is my overview of the items I found most likely to affect people with MS. If an item is not included in this list, don’t assume that it’s not in the plan. I encourage everyone to read the complete plan document located at https://joebiden.com/disabilities/

Items not clearly addressed in the plan

Currently, Medicare recipients must pay 20% of the cost of mobility devices such as scooters and wheelchairs — a significant cost. It is not clear whether this will be reduced or eliminated in the Biden plan.

It is not clear whether the breadth of assistive devices available for reimbursement under Medicare and Medicaid is increased. Items such as home modifications, wheelchair accessible vans, and wheelchairs with specialized features such as standing, elevating, stair climbing, or maneuvering on difficult terrain may or may not be covered in the Biden plan.

It is not clear whether there will be coverage for SSDI/Medicare recipients who need assistance with activities of daily living, such as cooking, dressing, and bathing. This may be limited to Medicaid recipients.

Summary of the Biden plan for people with disabilities

The Biden plan is aggressive and would result in significant improvements for the disabled population. It falls somewhat short of the plan detailed by former candidate Elizabeth Warren, but it is still a bold move forward compared to the status quo.

There is no mention in the Biden plan for how much these benefits would cost the federal government or how they would be funded.

If you find errors or omissions in this post, please email them to me at email@MitchSturgeon.com, and I will make corrections as necessary.

Again, I have reached out to the Trump campaign and will include a similar review of their plan when and if it is made available.

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