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Disability Empowerment

How the ACA Benefits People With Disabilities

Karl D. Cooper, JD

Director of Public Health Programs, American Association on Health & Disability (AAHD)

As the start of the eighth open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) approaches this fall, it is critical that we remember how important the ACA has been for the disability community. 

At the American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD), we have been supporting enrollment efforts for the ACA marketplaces since they opened in 2013. 

The ACA brought about much-needed reforms for health insurance, addressed systemic discrimination, and expanded coverage to millions of Americans who had previously been uninsured. Many of the reforms established by the ACA were a great benefit for people with disabilities, including the millions of individuals and families who may acquire disabilities at some point or for some period in their lives.

Pre-existing conditions

One of the most well-known provisions in the ACA was the prohibition against denial of coverage due to a pre-existing condition. It is estimated that prior to the ACA’s enactment, about 3.5 million people between the ages of 16 and 65 had pre-existing medical conditions and/or disabilities, and were uninsured. For those with a pre-existing condition who did have coverage, there was always the fear that if they lost their job or source of insurance, they would be unable to get other coverage. 

The ACA changed the rules and requires insurance companies to provide coverage for anyone who wants it. Additionally, other ACA provisions take the protection a step further by guaranteeing insurance companies cannot take away coverage or set your premium rates based on your health status and/or disability. 

These protections reinforce the right that people with disabilities can get coverage when and if they need it, and will not have to pay extra just because of their disability.

Guaranteed benefits

However, guaranteeing the right to coverage is just one of the benefits the ACA provides for people with disabilities. The ACA also requires that all insurance plans cover essential health benefits, which is critical for people with disabilities. These benefits include coverage of items such as prescription medications, mental health treatment, durable medical equipment or other medical devices, and rehabilitation and/or habilitation benefits, among others. 

The ACA also prohibits insurance companies from placing a monetary limit on how much they spend for any of their customers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us this year, having access to health insurance is critically important and AAHD celebrates the fact that the ACA guarantees that people with disabilities have access to health insurance regardless of what health crises emerge.

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