ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — For most of us, retiring at age 65 is something we would welcome. That’s not the case for 64-year-old Charles Van Heuveln of St. Paul.
Van Heuveln has cerebral palsy, and turned to a state run medical program to help him live and work. He said the very same program will now force him into retirement, and worse, poverty, along with hundreds of others.
“I’m angry and frustrated. Downright scared,” said Van Heuveln.
Van Heuveln is one of thousands of Minnesotans that are part of the Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities program, known as an incentive program to help people with disabilities become more self-sufficient, allowing them access to the health care they need.
Through MA-EPD, Van Heuveln said he is able to afford his personal care attendant and a condo adapted to his needs while working at a job he loves. For 18 years, he’s worked with students who have disabilities in the St. Paul School District.
But when Van Heuveln turns 65 in May, he’ll age out of the program and be placed on state medical assistance, which he said is $677 a month.
“I will probably have to let this home go because I won’t have enough to make my mortgage,” he said.
Van Heuveln wants to work, but he said then he won’t qualify for the medical assistance he needs since the assistance is based on income, unlike the MA-EPD program. To get his basic services, like his personal care attendant, he said it’ll come from his own pocket, or pension, what is known as a medical spend down. A fate he said will be faced with poverty and public housing.
“Or a nursing home until death. I don’t want to live that way, and I know that nobody else does. I’ve earned enough to support myself if they let me keep it,” said Van Heuveln.
He said he’s written more than 200 letters to Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton, with only one response in return.
“I don’t know what’s coming. I am not looking forward to a nursing home,” said Van Heuveln, who said nursing home care for people in his situation will cost more than expanding the age limit in the MA-EPD program.
Last session, lawmakers voted down an amendment to waive the age limit for people like Van Heuveln, which WCCO-TV learned would cost about $1.7 million.
Loren Colman, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Human Services, said with disabled baby boomers living longer, the state worries the problem will only get worse. Colman adds that his department is struggling with a policy derived from a different time. The program was founded in the late 1990s.
Today, a growing population of disabled Minnesotans is thriving past 65.
Colman said 17 people in this program turn 65 this year. Next year, it’ll be 175 people, and the years after even more. He said his agency is working with lawmakers and the Governor to revisit the issue this session.
Van Heuveln said he’s not asking for special treatment, just what he, and many others, have earned.
“And I think we have just as much right to enjoy our own retirement as anyone else,” he said.