University Hospital will begin limiting the amount of visitors allowed inside due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
Because of the growing number of coronavirus cases, University Hospital will begin limiting visitors again. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

President Joe Biden recently signed the third coronavirus relief bill into law, welcome news to the millions of Americans hit hard by the pandemic. But a pay-as-you-go rule enacted in 2010 requires all spending to be offset by automatic, across-the-board cuts to certain government programs, and Congress may be looking to make cuts elsewhere to offset the $1.9 trillion stimulus package. One area where cuts are being considered is in Medicare. 

While the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop an estimated $36 billion in cuts to Medicare next year, the Senate last week removed language in the bill to prevent these cuts from happening. The House must now vote on the Senate version of the legislation before sending it to President Biden’s desk.

Generally associated with senior citizens, Medicare also funds health care for over nine million disabled adults under age 65. In some cases, disabling conditions can complicate efforts to obtain care. Developmental disabilities, mental illness, or vision impairment, for example, can make it more difficult to research providers, deal with coverage issues, or access transportation. Cost also is an important factor, as the median income for Americans with disabilities barely reaches above $20,000 per year. Confronting both tight budgets and often complex health care needs is challenging.

Like other Medicare beneficiaries, disabled individuals who rely on Medicare can choose between traditional coverage and Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage has helped expand health care access for disabled people by providing a comprehensive health plan, which pays for everything from doctors’ appointments and prescription drugs to emergency care and hospital stays. A variety of plans are available, including many that charge no monthly premium. Removing financial deterrents to care helps increase patients’ utilization so they stay well.

Care coordination is another asset. Medicare Advantage plans employ specialists who can help patients schedule appointments and ensure that all aspects of a treatment regimen work in concert. These plans cover an array of services traditional Medicare doesn’t, such as home modifications, home-delivered meals and some in-home caregiver support. The plans provide transportation to and from medical appointments and home delivery of essential supplies, including prescription drugs and groceries. Telehealth empowers members to consult with doctors by phone or videoconference, a feature that helps disabled people receive timely care regardless of reduced mobility or other barriers.

There are many factors that promote an inclusive society for people of varying abilities. Quality health care is an essential foundation, and our elected leaders should protect the programs delivering critical care to millions of older and disabled people. That means rejecting any proposals that would raise costs.

It also means advancing legislation aimed at enhancing equity. The Ensuring Parity in MA for Audio-Only Telehealth Act is a prime example. Many Medicare Advantage members, particularly rural and low-income Texans, lack high-speed internet access to support videoconferencing with their doctors. This bill would bring them further into the fold for convenient remote care.

With concerted effort by all members of our congressional delegation to protect funding for vital health care programs, Texans with disabilities can continue to enjoy affordable, accessible health care through Medicare and Medicare Advantage. With that benefit solidified, leaders can then consider how best to increase employment for people with disabilities and invite disabled Americans to take greater part in all aspects of our communities.

Dennis Borel is the executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.