Affordable Care Act Update: What You Need to Know About Open Enrollment

If you are uninsured or looking for affordable health insurance, now is the time for you to look! During “open enrollment” you can purchase private health insurance through the marketplace in each state. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for assistance with your health insurance costs.

If you currently have insurance through the marketplace, you should look at your current plan and determine if it will continue to meet your needs, or select a better plan. If you do not take action, you will be automatically re-enrolled in your current plan. Re-enrollment provides an important opportunity to report any changes to your income.

2015 Open Enrollment
November 15, 2014
Open enrollment begins

December 15, 2014
Enroll before this date to have coverage January 1, 2015

February 15, 2015
Open enrollment ends

Why you should check your coverage:

  • Even if you like your health plan, new plans may be available and premiums or cost sharing may have changed since last year.
  • Even if your income has not changed, you could be eligible for more financial assistance.

If you have a disability or a health condition, pay attention to possible changes:

  • Are a broad range of health care providers included in the health plan’s network of providers?
  • Are there enough medical specialists in the network to meet your needs?
  • Are needed medications included in the plan’s list of covered drugs?
  • Is there adequate access to non-clinical, disability-specific services and supports?
  • Does the plan have service limits, such as caps on the number of office visits for therapy services?
  • Are mental health services covered to the same extent that other “physical” health benefits are covered?

Where to get help?

Health insurance can be complicated. If you or your family member needs assistance with understanding the options, healthcare.gov can help. This website has information about seeking assistance in local communities, explanations of health insurance terms, enrollment information and much more. There is also a 24-hour phone line for consumer assistance at 1-800-318-2596 to call for help.

Reproductive Health Education and Disability

Holding Hands

Image via Summer Skyes, used under a Creative Commons license

Reproductive and sexual health is a natural part of everyone’s life, but seems to be a very taboo topic for individuals with IDD. Reproductive and sexual education is taught in most public schools all across the United States, but not many programs are out there that explain it so that individuals with IDD can fully understand. If we truly want these individuals to live healthy fulfilling lives, educating them about sexual health should be included. Part of living a fulfilling life is to find healthy relationships that help you throughout life’s ups and downs and increase your emotional happiness, so why should that be any different for individuals with IDD.

While this topic can be uncomfortable and scary to discuss with those you care for, it is necessary. There are stereotypes out there regarding this topic such as – individuals with IDD are asexual or, just the opposite, that they have an over-sexual drive that they can’t control. These stereotypes are just not true. They go through the same feelings and emotions that any other individual may have, but with the subject commonly being overlooked they may not understand what is happening in their bodies or how to properly deal with those feelings in ways that are socially acceptable. Teaching behaviors like when and where certain behaviors are acceptable, proper communication, mutual consent between individuals, and how to be smart/safe about protecting yourself in different situations is essential. A lot of this type of education is about teaching appropriate behaviors while the rest is presenting the actual facts.

Many individuals with disabilities have girlfriends/boyfriends, so it is important for them to know the options about if they are going to act on their feelings how to be safe to prevent the transmission of STD’s and unplanned pregnancy (unless in confliction with religious, cultural beliefs, etc.). Since many of these individuals may have pre-existing medications they take, consulting their physician is the best way to figure out what method of prevention is appropriate and safe for each individual. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently stated that birth control and reproductive health should be integrated to become a part of regular care for individuals with IDD.

Another very key reason why this topic should be addressed is because individuals with IDD are at a much higher risk of being sexually assaulted. Statistics say that an alarming 80% of females and 30% of males with IDD are sexually abused during their lifetime. Learning about the difference between good and bad relationships and appropriate boundaries is essential. This type of education will help teach individuals that it is OK to speak up and say no in a situation they are not comfortable in and hopefully will help to prevent these types of incidents from occurring to individuals with IDD in the future.

While it’s a difficult subject for a lot of people, it’s important that we learn to properly teach individuals with IDD about reproductive and sexual health. The Arc’s HealthMeet project has a resource section that contains information about puberty, sexuality and more. Teaching individuals to understand their bodies and feelings will lead to healthier relationships in the future.

The Arc National Headquarters Announces New Strategic Alliance with District of Columbia Chapter

Mary Lou Meccariello

Mary Lou Meccariello

Washington, DC – The Arc of the District of Columbia (The Arc of DC), a mainstay in our nation’s capitol for nearly 65 years, has entered into a new strategic alliance with The Arc of the United States for management of the chapter that aims to enhance services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the District and create an incubator to develop best practices that can be replicated at chapters across the country in the future.

As longtime executive director Mary Lou Meccariello retires this fall, The Arc of DC’s board of directors is drawing on the expertise of The Arc’s national headquarters, also located in DC, to reposition the organization so that it can continue to be a preeminent service provider in the District and a powerful advocate for people with I/DD and their families. The chapter will continue to provide services in the DC Public Schools and employ people with I/DD performing contract services for the Federal government, while looking for new opportunities to expand its reach into the community.

2015 will mark 65 years of The Arc in the District of Columbia providing advocacy, supports and services for District residents. In order for the chapter to thrive going forward, and to support The Arc’s nearly 700 other chapters across the country, the national office staff will support The Arc of DC and develop innovative programs, services and supports at this chapter that can then be replicated throughout the network.

“With The Arc of DC in our backyard, this alliance presents a unique opportunity to find ways to serve and collaborate with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for the next 65 years of our existence. Working with the chapter’s board of directors and with current and potential partners, we are looking forward to our new partnership to continue The Arc of DC’s reputation as a stellar community organization in the District,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Meccariello, a native Washingtonian, is retiring with decades of professional experience in the field of disability, specializing in intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has played a key role in new program initiatives, service delivery, employer development and training, business development and legislative initiatives for people with I/DD in the city.

“I will miss The Arc and the people who embody our mission. I’m proud of the work we have done to support kids with I/DD in our schools and to employ people with disabilities in the community. We have served thousands and touched the lives of countless families. I look forward to watching the chapter thrive under this new strategic alliance with The Arc’s national office team,” said Meccariello.

“Mary Lou has been a tireless champion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the District of Columbia, and she will be missed in her role within The Arc’s community, and in her capacity as a leader in the field in the District. I wish her the best in her retirement and thank her for her contributions to The Arc and the movement,” said Robert A. Andersen, Board President of The Arc of DC.

The Arc of DC can be reached at 202.636.2950 or on the web at http://www.arcdc.net.

Social Security Announces 2015 Cost of Living Increase for Beneficiaries

Today the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase for 2015. This modest increase will help preserve the buying power of Social Security benefits for nearly 64 million Americans, including many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who receive benefits under our nation’s Social Security system.

According to SSA, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit will increase by $22, from $1,306 in 2014 to $1,328 in 2013. The average monthly benefit for a Social Security “disabled worker” beneficiary will increase by $19, from $1,146 in 2014 to $1,165 in 2015.

Higher Medicare premiums will offset some of this increase. Changes in Medicare premiums for 2015 are available at Medicare.gov.

Additionally, SSA today announced increases in important thresholds for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), including:

  • Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level – The SGA for SSDI and SSI will increase from $1,070 per month to $1,090 per month for non-blind beneficiaries, and from $1,800 per month to $1,820 per month for blind beneficiaries.
  • Trial Work Period (TWP) – The TWP for SSDI will increase from $770 per month to $780 per month.
  • SSI Federal Payment Standard – The SSI federal payment standard will increase for an individual from $721 per month to $733 per month, and for a couple from $1,082 per month to $1,100 per month.
  • SSI Student Earned Income Exclusion – The SSI student earned income exclusion monthly limit will increase from $1,750 to $1,780, and the exclusion’s annual limit will increase from $7,060 to $7,180.

Annual cost-of-living adjustments ensure that Social Security beneficiaries do not see their buying power eroded by inflation. SSDI and SSI benefits are modest, averaging only about $1,145 per month for SSDI beneficiaries in the “disabled worker” category and $535 per month for SSI beneficiaries. Every penny and every dollar counts for people who rely on these benefits to get by.

The Arc strongly supports ensuring adequate benefit levels, and has joined other national organizations to oppose proposals to reduce these much-needed annual cost-of living increases. Subscribe to The Arc’s Capitol Insider for updates to learn how you can help make sure that Social Security, SSI, and other vital supports are there for people with I/DD.

The Arc’s 2014 National Convention – A Rousing Success!

Thank you to all of the nearly 800 attendees who made it New Orleans for The Arc’s 2014 National Convention. We could not have pulled it off without the support from chapter staff, self-advocates, family members, and professionals in our network. You all help us make this event bigger and better every year. A lot of work went into designing a program that featured not only, educational opportunities and inspiration, but also the passion that brings The Arc’s mission to life.

Ron Suskind

Author Ron Suskind speaks with a fan at his book signing

The convention got started with an engaging and captivating opening session. Award winning author Ron Suskind gave an impassioned speech about his new book, Life Animated, that details the remarkable journey that his family went on to reconnect with Owen, their son who is diagnosed with Autism. His speech brought the audience to tears and to their feet. Ron truly felt at home in The Arc’s network and spent more than an hour ensuring everyone who wanted to get their copy of his book signed, talk to him, or even give him a hug was given the chance.

Director of National Partnerships for Comcast/NBCUniversal, Fred Maahs, spoke about his desire to use his position to bridge corporations and the non-profits that service communities. Fred also shared his personal story of his physical disability and how it has impacted his career and the goals he has for Comcast.

Throughout the convention, attendees were able to network and interact with chapter staff, sponsors, and national initiative partners. Self- Advocates showcased their products and services in Entrepreneur Alley. This year featured our biggest showing of self-advocate entrepreneurs yet!

But the convention wasn’t all work and no play. Early risers were able to “Wake and Shake” with Eruption Athletics. Chris Engler and Joe Jelinski of Eruption Athletics (EA) are able to bring physical fitness to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through informative work out sessions that feature the EA patented Volcano PADD and specially designed music to help inform participants of the specific exercises they have to complete.

With the convention going off without a hitch, everyone was thrilled to participate in the local host event, which involved a second line parade from the Marriott hotel to The Presbytere. Onlookers from neighboring stores and restaurants waved the parade on, as everyone marched through The French Quarter. At The Presbytere, everyone was able to enjoy jazz music, light refreshments, and view the ongoing exhibits on Hurricane Katrina and the history of Mardi Gras.

Peter and Nancy with Local Hosts Barry Meyer and Kelly Serrett

(L to R) Barry Meyer, The Arc of Baton Rouge; Nancy Webster, President of The Arc Board of Directors; Kelly Serrett, The Arc of Louisiana; Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc

One of the highlights for many of the participants were the powerful self-advocates who shared their stories. During the opening session Betty Williams spoke about the importance of employment for individuals with I/DD and how The Arc has given her meaningful employment. Shaun Bickley had the crowd cheering as he spoke about his personal journey as an individuals with autism. In fact, his speech was so powerful he has already been booked for another gig. And finally, during the closing general session, James Meadours, a nationally-known leader in self-advocacy and a sexual assault survivor shared his personal story about his journey through the criminal justice system and how his lo­cal chapter of The Arc supported him along the way

The convention drew to a close on Thursday afternoon with a sneak preview of the documentary film Children of the Dumping Ground, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Chip Warren, led by The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability Director, Leigh Ann Davis. Board President Nancy Webster presented the President’s Award to Dr. David Braddock for his research regarding long-term care, health promotion and disease prevention, and public policy toward people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and Jim Ellis was presented with The Arc’s 2014 Advocacy Matters Award.

For more pictures visit The Arc’s Flickr, and don’t forget to share your photos as well!