March 8, 2019
On Tuesday, March 5, 2019, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), joined by Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Pat Roberts (R-KS), introduced critical federal legislation, S. 651, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, to dramatically increase the financial security and economic self-sufficiency of millions of Americans with disabilities. Consistent with the intent of the original ABLE Act, which was broadly supported by 78 U.S. Senators, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act will expand the number of individuals with disabilities eligible to open ABLE accounts. Under current law, only individuals with an age of onset of disability prior to turning 26 are eligible. S. 651 would increase the age limit up to 46 years of age, providing any individual whose disability onset began prior to turning 46 the opportunity to open an ABLE account. This important change will not only expand access for individuals with disabilities, but improve the long-term viability of ABLE programs by expanding the number of active accounts.
The Senators championing S. 651 made the strategic decision to limit the scope of the bill only to age adjustment and not to tackle other issues, but opportunities to deal with other matters may very well be on the horizon. National Disability Institute (NDI) has been advocating for additional critical improvements to the ABLE Act to ensure its success and maximize its utility for all people with disabilities. Specifically, NDI has been calling for a rollback of the so-called Medicaid payback provisions of current law which allows a state to seek reimbursement from a deceased individual’s ABLE account to cover costs associated with Medicaid services provided to the individual by that state. Since the ABLE Act’s enactment into law more than four years ago, a number of states have fortunately enacted state-level prohibitions against what many advocates refer to as “Medicaid clawback,” and still more states are considering their own bans or limitations on the practice. However, a patchwork of state-level prohibitions, critical though they may be, is an inferior approach to one establishing a clear national policy ensuring that contributions made to an ABLE account will not be possibly subject to seizure upon the death of the ABLE account owner.
In addition to an increase in the age of disability onset and elimination of the Medicaid payback provisions, NDI has also been calling on policymakers to, among other things, establish and fund education and outreach grants and similar efforts to promote the use of ABLE accounts, to settle on a central federal hub for information dissemination and cross-agency coordination and to allow employers to contribute to employee ABLE accounts with similar employer benefits in current practice with 401ks. Again, S. 651 only adjusts the age of onset of disability and does not address these other matters.
Advocates are encouraged to reach out to each of their two U.S. Senators to ask them to cosponsor S. 651, the ABLE Age Adjustment Act. As support for S. 651 grows in the U.S. Senate, all appropriate opportunities will be explored to advance the bill through the legislative process.