Tax Bill Bad for People With Disabilities, Families

If you think a tax bill has nothing to do with people with autism, think again.

This bill has serious implications for all with disabilities, including families with special needs kids.

The tax bill repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. This mandate requires all of us — healthy, sick, young, old, etc. — to get health insurance. Together, we collectively drive down the cost for folks who cannot cover their own health care costs, like those with disabilities. Living with a disability is expensive, and health care can be incredibly expensive.  

Ending the individual mandate would destabilize the market, increase premiums and threaten protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Costs would immediately balloon. Ask families how much they’re currently paying in monthly premiums for insurance coverage in the marketplace. Most will say it’s incredibly high, and gets higher every year. That amount would spike if people were no longer required to be insured.

I remember back when no providers would insure people with pre-existing conditions — not even kids. Parents paid bills out-of-pocket and hoped for no serious complications that could result in a trip to the emergency room. I don’t see a scenario with this tax bill where we don’t inevitably wind up back in the same place.

The tax bill takes aim at the disabilities community in other ways, too. It would change long-time tax policies that have helped support charitable nonprofits through tax incentives. An incentive for big donors to donate to nonprofits is the tax write-off they receive. Changes to the standard deductions would dramatically reduce the number of people who itemize charitable donations. In the current version of the Senate’s bill, 38 million taxpayers would no longer be able to deduct their charitable contributions. 

Charities are at their most useful when they fill the gaps in services that employers or the government cannot pay. This bill pulls two safety nets out simultaneously. If the cost of higher insurance premiums leave you without basic necessities, don’t count on going to your local charities for help. The wells are running dry.  

Finally, the legislation would reduce federal revenue. Under budget rules, legislation that adds to the national debt must be offset. The bill cuts taxes, and so programs must inevitably be cut. Programs like Medicaid serve as the backbone for the most vulnerable of our population, and covers many community-based programs for people with I/DD. It even covers the health services for kids in our public schools.

What we’re bound to see are successive, broad-based cuts to social support programs, under the guise that “there’s no money” for them. And there won’t be — if the tax bill passes, the budget will be cut to the bare bones — at least for health care and social services.

Mountaineer Autism Project has always advocated for the most appropriate, evidence-based services for all kids diagnosed with autism. The passage of this bill would take us backwards — making it harder to insure them, to receive reimbursement for providing appropriate health services, to provide community services such as child care, and to donate to the charities that provide services for these children. It’s like a death by a thousand cuts.

The tax bill will cost too much for West Virginia’s kids and families with autism. We stand in strong opposition to its passage, and hope our Congressional delegation does, too.

Kathy Shapell, president

Mountaineer Autism Project