Committee revives Ticket-to-Work plan

Thursday, February 1, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:29 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A victim of the 2005 Medicaid cuts, the Ticket-to-Work program for the disabled poor won an easy legislative victory Wednesday.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Charles Portwood, R-St. Louis County, proposed similar legislation in 2005 and in 2006. In 2005, the measure passed the House, but never saw a committee hearing in the Senate. The 2006 legislation never left the House. A special eight-member committee formed to consider the bill voted unanimously in its favor on Wednesday.

Portwood said he thinks the bill could see the House floor as early as next week and that it will breeze through both chambers this session.

Ticket-to-Work is a program that allows people with disabilities to work and still qualify for Medicaid. Without the program, many cannot afford to work because they would be unable to earn enough to pay for the expensive treatments associated with their disabilities. The program is designed to remove the barriers to work and allow people to keep their health care.

Portwood said the new legislation would remove those barriers and provide incentives for people with disabilities to work.

“As an incentive to help the disabled person work, we give them a certain number of disregards that allows them to bring their gross income down to 85 percent of the poverty level in order to allow them to qualify,” Portwood said.

With the new exemptions, he said, a couple could earn as much at $46,200 per year and still qualify.

The program takes into consideration a $20 standard deduction, the entire income of the person with the disability, health insurance premiums, Supplemental Security Income payments, the first $65 of a spouse’s income and employment expenses related to the worker’s disability. The bill also provides a $75 deduction for the purchase of dental and vision insurance.

Each of these factors would be subtracted from the participants’ total combined income to increase eligibility.

“I like that mechanism better than the mechanisms that I’ve heard with (Missouri) HealthNet that say, you know, if you’re a good patient maybe we’ll give you some glasses,” Portwood said after the committee meeting. “What we’re saying is, if you’re a responsible person, we’re going to make it easier for you to qualify for Ticket-to-Work if you buy the third-party insurance through a private entity.”

Eleven people stepped forward in the committee hearing to testify in favor of the bill, including representatives of the Missouri Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Missouri Association of Sheltered Workshops and the Missouri Catholic Conference. Nobody testified in opposition.

House Democratic Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said that Ticket-to-Work is an important program and he is supportive of restoring it, but that it doesn’t go far enough.

“It doesn’t cover enough people,” he said. “It restores coverage for about 3,000 people. Actually, there were nearly 20,000 that were eliminated from this program. So it’s a step in the right direction, but we need to do even more.”

Jessica Robinson, spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Blunt, said that governor is supportive of reinstating the program and recommended money in his 2008 budget for the program.

“He does support the concepts in the bill that passed out of committee today,” she said. “And he supports providing a transitional benefit for workers.”

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