Advocates begin work around legislative session

In Governor Quinn’s State of the State Address on February 6, the Governor restated a 2012 commitment to invest more in community based services. A few nights later, in an appearance on Chicago Tonight, the governor reinforced his commitment again when he said, “We don't need outdated institutions.” Disability advocates across the state applaud the Governor’s pledge to put more resources into community-based supports. Yet, in order for people to live and participate successfully in their own homes, the pledge needs to be put into practice.

What is put into practice depends upon the Illinois State Budget, which the Governor, State Representatives, and State Senators will iron out during the Spring Legislative Session. During the session, Access Living will advocate for issues and pieces of legislation that support the independence of people with disabilities.

Home Services and Community Care Program

This includes more funding for the Home Services Program and the Community Care Program. Among other supports, the programs provide personal attendant services to people with disabilities under 60 years old and to seniors. Personal attendants help people with disabilities and seniors with day–to-day tasks like bathing, dressing, eating and cleaning. Without the services, many seniors and people with disabilities would be forced into nursing homes. The programs fill a critical need, yet they are both underfunded. The Home Services Program needs supplemental spending of $25 million to finish out fiscal year 2013, and the Community Care Program needs supplemental spending of $170 million. The funding will help thousands of people with disabilities remain independent.

Medicaid Expansion

Many people with disabilities who qualify for the Home Services Program are Medicaid Recipients. Under the Federal Affordable Care Act, Illinois has the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to people who are currently uninsured. Access Living believes that everybody should have access to quality health care, and supports Medicaid expansion because it will reach people with disabilities now uninsured. To promote Medicaid expansion in Illinois, Access Living is supporting SB 26 and HB 6253, which will extend health care to more than 340,000 people who are currently uninsured. In addition to providing coverage to people currently uninsured, it will expand existing services to include services that are not currently covered, including Mental Health Services. SB 26 sailed out of the Senate Public Health Committee in early February, and is waiting for a full Senate Vote. If Illinois passes a Medicaid Expansion bill, the state would qualify for more than $4.5 billion through the Affordable Care Act.

Hearing Aid Insurance Coverage

New on the policy agenda this session are two bills that support access to hearing aids. Private insurance often covers little to no part of the cost of hearing aids, which range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.  Illinois Senator Ira Silverstein and Representative Dan Brady have filed the bills SB 38 and HB 1231. The bills would allow for up to $2500 in coverage every three years for each ears.  Without this type of coverage, people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing suffer significant communication barriers. People will often go for years without replacing their hearing aids or will not replace them because they are cost prohibitive. From single adults to working families and older adults, these bills will open up access to many people whose participation has been limited because of expense of hearing aids.

These are just a few of the issues Access Living will address during the legislative session. Twenty two Access Living community members traveled to Springfield on February 20 to speak out on these issues. We will continue to make visits through the Spring. To learn more, or get involved in the process, contact the Access Living office.