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Addressing Health Care for People with Disabilities

September 1, 2010

Beth Newsom is a project coordinator at Kaiser Permanente. She co-chairs the organization’s People with Disabilities Association, is part of the leadership network for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center and regularly presents on disability issues. Beth is pursuing a master’s on public administration through the University of Colorado at Denver. This posting is her own and does not represent Kaiser Permanente’s positions, strategies or opinions.


In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became the first comprehensive civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. Although the ADA opened many doors for a now estimated 54 million Americans with disabilities, it did not address the many problems they regularly experience related to health care. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act(PPACA), signed into law on March 23, 2010, addresses  many of those problems.

There are many viewpoints as to which elements are most important for people with disabilities. Here are five critical elements that affect people with disabilities in positive ways. More information is available at http://www.healthcare.gov/foryou/disabilities/index.html

  • Denial and limitations of healthcare coverage. Starting late in 2010 for those under age 19, and by the year 2014 for everyone, health care plans cannot exclude anyone from coverage and cannot charge a higher premium due to a pre-existing condition, which includes disabilities. Between now and then, temporary “high-risk pools” will cover people who have been without insurance for at least six months, have a pre-existing condition or have been denied health care coverage, and are U.S. citizens or reside in the U.S. legally. The programs are run by individual states or by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Independent Living. To enable people with disabilities to live as independently as possible, the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program will begin in October 2012. This voluntary insurance program will provide assistance to working people over age 18 who need help with daily activities.
  • Accessible medical diagnostic equipment standards. These standards will assure access for people with disabilities. Examples of equipment include lower examination tables, weight scales, mammography equipment and more. Many of these standards will improve access for people who use wheelchairs.
  • Cultural competency training. Many incentives will be available for training in the care of people with disabilities, targeted toward current and future providers.
  • Health Disparities: Federally conducted or supported health care or public health program or activities will be required to collect data, including disability status. Such data will be used to compare health disparities and for required reports to Congress concerning disparities.