Only two years ago, a powerful new financial tool became available to persons living with a disability across the country. The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) savings account is a tax-advantaged savings account that qualified individuals may open. Funds saved in an ABLE account grow tax-deferred and are withdrawn tax-free if used for qualified disability expenses like education, housing, transportation, healthcare and wellness, job coaching, assistive technology and so on – offering a plethora of options for day to day expenses for an individual with a disability. Each year, you can contribute up to the gift tax limit, currently $15,000 annually, and if you’re a working-age individual with a disability, an additional (approximately) $12,000 a year, into your ABLE account. And now, thanks in large part to Kansas lawmakers and national and state disability advocates, if you’re someone living in the great state of Kansas with a disability, there is another tremendous benefit to owning an ABLE savings account – Kansas has become one of only two states to waived its discretion to force your family to pay back Medicaid with funds in an ABLE account.
Up until the passage of the ABLE Act in 2014, individuals with disabilities could only possess $2,000 in assets at any given time in order to remain eligible for several federal means-tested benefits programs. Today, with the launch of the ABLE program, individuals with disabilities can save up to $100,000 without affecting eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or save beyond $100,000 up to a states 529 limit (Kansas’ cap on 529 accounts is $402,000) - all the while, the individual with a disability will never lose their Medicaid benefits at any point. Essentially, ABLE accounts provide a mechanism to increase this $2,000 asset limitation so that individuals with disabilities (and their families) can save money for their future, increase opportunity and improve their quality of life.
On May 17, 2018, legislation was signed in to law that restricts Kansas Medicaid’s option to “clawback” monies from an ABLE account owner when he or she passes away.
As two fellow Kansans, we couldn’t be more proud. The effort in our state is a great example of the power of the disability grassroots movement and how leaders and lawmakers in Kansas are listening to their constituents. Disability advocates spoke up and spoke out – and were heard loud and clear. Advocates from around the state and across the country voiced concern about the Medicaid clawback provision through social online circles, statewide conferences and Kansas ABLE Savings forums. As a result, state ABLE administrator, Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner opened up discussion about improving the Kansas ABLE Savings Program early on. This open dialogue turned into a working partnership that led to, swift passage of the bill which ultimately became law. This collaborative effort between LaTurner’s office, legislative leadership, Kansas advocates and national advocacy organizations like the National Down Syndrome Society, the leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome, was imperative in addressing the concerns tied to Medicaid clawback.
With Kansas continuing to lead the way, we are teaming up to urge other state legislatures as well as the U.S. Congress to enact measures to amend the original ABLE law to push back against the Medicaid clawback.
Every year Congress takes a break in August to return home from our nation’s capital — known as the “August Recess.” Each year, the Congressional recess is meant to serve as an opportunity for all lawmakers to hear from their constituents. From town halls to coffee shop roundtables to one-on-one office meetings, this month is a time when your elected officials are back home and listening to the issues you hold dear. The federal ABLE Act was one of the most bipartisan laws of all time — in 2014, it garnered the support of 85 percent of the entire Congress — and the ABLE law is hailed as the most significant disability legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act, which just celebrated its 28th birthday last month.
Your personal stories, your voices and your advocacy matters. With friendly ears on both sides of the political aisle, now is a perfect opportunity to respectfully reach out to your Congressional and state legislative leaders. Ask them to follow our Kansas yellow brick road and allow families to preserve their own private ABLE funds and eliminate the Medicaid payback once and for all. Together, we can ensure that Americans with disabilities, from sea to shining sea, have the ability to achieve a better life.