ST. PAUL (WCCO) — A Minnesota State Senator is hopeful her bill to reform a state medical insurance program for working people with disabilities will move forward with a hearing this week.
Senator Kathy Sheran of District 23 in Mankato says she’s been trying to reform the Medical Assistance for Employed Persons with Disabilities program, known as MA-EPD, for four years, but WCCO’s story on a St. Paul man named Charles Van Heuveln last week is giving her longtime concerns a new voice.
“I think we have just as much right to enjoy our own retirement as anyone else,” said Van Heuveln, who has cerebral palsy.
WCCO first introduced you to Charles Van Heuveln last Wednesday, and since received many emails from concerned citizens in the Twin Cities and as far as Canada, saying the state must help.
Heuveln says MA-EPD that has helped him live a productive life, with a job at St. Paul Schools for 18 years and as the owner of a condo adapted for his special needs.
He now says MA-EPD is forcing him to retire when he becomes 65 in May. The program has an age limit of 16 to 65 years old. In MA-EPD, people can keep up to $20,000 in income earnings to help them stay in their homes, and receive services like personal care attendants to avoid more expensive care like skilled nursing homes or hospitals.
Van Heuveln says at 65, he will automatically be placed on state medical assistance.
“On state medical assistance, they only allow a person $677 a month for income. And the only reason I need medical assistance is that I have a personal care attendant,” said Van Heuveln.
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-PED 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. It’s 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.
Van Heuveln says he’s written more than 200 letters to state lawmakers, pleading for help.
Now Senator Sheran says Van Heuveln reinvigorated her fight to pass Senate File 726, her MA-EPD reform bill, which she’s brought to lawmakers’ attention since 2008. In her district, Lutheran pastor Don Roberts has ALS, and faces the same fate as Van Heuveln.
“Issues relating to the disability community move me because they often times, as you could see with Charles, they have difficulty being heard. They need someone in the legislature, someone in the public. I’m more hopeful this year than ever,” said Senator Sheran.
Sheran is also a nurse who believes an age waiver saves the state on massive public health expenses.
“There will be pressure placed upon the legislature to make the investment. In comparison to the cost, of taking people off this program and putting them on other programs, the cost savings makes it valuable,” said Sheran.
For Van Heuveln, it’s his first response in a year, and his first hope he can stay in his home.
“Allow us to earn enough money so we can make ourselves as independent as possible,” he said.
Sheran says she hopes to have a house hearing on the MA-EPD age waiver this week.
Her bill hasn’t passed in past years due to state budget concerns.
The Governor’s administration supports the measure, but says again this year, it all depends on how much money is in the state budget.
“I think it’s more important for people to live than to be able to want to afford a football stadium,” said Van Heuveln.