By Dennis Borel
"Preserving health should be a top priority for everyone, but individuals with disabilities can face greater barriers"
Mention Medicare and many people think of senior citizens. But they aren’t the only beneficiaries. Over 9.1 million of the 44 million Americans who rely on Medicare are under age 65.  These younger individuals have disabilities and for their health care needs, they often turn to Medicare Advantage. Of course, many older adults also live with disabilities and enroll in Medicare Advantage.
Being a congressional advocate for people with disabilities, therefore, means supporting Medicare Advantage. This program gives all members, with or without disabilities, access to a choice of health plans, each offering comprehensive coverage and low out-of-pocket costs.
Not only are many plans available for no premium, the co-pays are minimal and there is a cap on members’ annual spending. As beneficiaries with disabilities are more likely to be low-income than other members, these protections are vital in preserving their access to care and stretching their sometimes limited financial resources.
People with disabilities may also have complex needs and are more likely to rate themselves to be in only fair or poor health, as compared with seniors without disabilities. They may need to see a variety of specialists, fill multiple prescriptions each month, and use physical therapy, counseling, and other services to retain and improve function and quality of life. Medicare Advantage covers all of these services and more on a single plan.
It’s convenient to use one insurance card for everything, including medications, behavioral health services, and physical rehabilitation, along with doctors’ appointments and hospital care. But Medicare Advantage goes one better by incorporating care coordination, too. Professional assistance is available to help navigate the health plan network, organize appointments, and make sure all providers are working in concert on a patient’s treatment. This can make the difference for many patients in accessing care at all.
People with disabilities are the demographic group least likely to drive or own their own vehicle. Transportation is critical. Most plans include accessible rides to and from medical appointments. This free option, nurse helplines, counseling over videoconference, and other in-home options can facilitate care for less mobile patients.
A final point worth mentioning are the preventative services. Preserving health should be a top priority for everyone, but individuals with disabilities can face greater barriers. By making wellness care free, Medicare Advantage removes financial concerns. And by offering an array of welcoming programs, health plans make it easy for anyone—including individuals with disabilities—to get help improving their nutrition, enhancing their fitness, quitting tobacco, ensuring their cholesterol and blood sugar readings are in the normal range, and doing all the other little things necessary to stay well.
People with disabilities deserve to work, live, learn, play, and participate fully in our communities. Medicare Advantage provides high-quality, affordable care to help make greater independence and engagement possible. As the November election approaches, current and aspiring federal leaders can support our citizens with disabilities and make their stances clear by speaking out in favor of full inclusion and proven successful programs like Medicare Advantage.
Dennis Borel is the executive director for the Coalition of Texans With Disabilities, 501(c)3 working to ensure that persons with disabilities may work, live, learn, play and participate fully in the community of their choice.