Disability Issues: Where Do the Candidates Stand?

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With primary elections coming up, it is important to gauge where the candidates in both parties stand on disability issues, because changes could have a profound effect on your child’s health and wellbeing.

First of all, what should you be looking for in a candidate? The following are issues directly or indirectly related to disability that may affect your child and family:

  • Plans for Medicaid and Medicaid waivers
  • Plans to change insurance coverage and/or the Affordable Care Act
  • Family medical leave, respite, and caregiving
  • Civil rights for people with disabilities
  • Education for people with disabilities
  • Employment for people with disabilities
  • Other plans for specific groups, such as those with Autism

There are both Democrats and Republicans who have strong support for people with disabilities or children with complex medical issues. The remaining content in this article will help you decide which candidates in both parties have the best plans for your child with complex medical needs and your family as a whole. Americans have a long tradition of voting against their interests, so make sure that any candidate you plan to vote for actually supports policies that will improve your family’s lives.

To make it completely fair, we only used the information candidates provided on their websites as sources of information. Thus, this article solely includes the information a candidate wishes to share about disability and healthcare issues. Some candidates have discussed disability and healthcare–in both positive and negative ways–during speeches, but that information is not being included to make sure every candidate has the same balanced opportunity.

Candidate Disability Platforms

A good way to gauge how important disability issues are to candidates is to see if they have devoted a specific page, section, or committee to disability. Because disability issues affect some 56 million Americans, you would think that all candidates would want to appeal to this constituency. This is, surprisingly, not the case.

To assess commitment to the disability community, we went to the website for each candidate to see if they had a section on disability. The results are in the table that follows. Note that only candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties receiving more than 5% of the vote in current nationwide polls were included. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order. Candidates may add additional information to their websites at any time, so this table is accurate as of 2/1/2016, the day the primaries and caucuses begin.

Candidate Party Disability Section?
Jeb Bush Republican YES
Ben Carson Republican no
Chris Christie Republican no
Hillary Clinton Democrat YES
Ted Cruz Republican no
Marco Rubio Republican no
Bernie Sanders Democrat YES
Donald Trump Republican no

Candidate Positions on Disability and Healthcare

Sometimes candidates don’t have a page on disability, but they still include on their websites important information related to disability, healthcare, Medicaid, special education, and other topics related to children with complex medical issues. Each candidate’s website was scanned for information on the above-listed topics, and the information is summarized below. Note that, once again, only candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties receiving more than 5% of the vote in current nationwide polls were included. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order. Candidates may add additional information to their websites at any time, so this information is accurate as of 2/1/2016.

Jeb Bush – Republican Primary
Jeb Bush would like to return healthcare to the states. He would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act by offering families tax credits for purchase of private insurance policies. He does not include an explicit plan for Medicaid, though his mention of returning healthcare to the states suggests implementing block grants to states. Jeb Bush supports, “coordinated care for individuals with behavioral health conditions and the disabled,” and he describes in a video how he has supported home and community based Medicaid waivers to keep people with disabilities living in the community. He strongly supports the Americans with Disabilities Act. He would specifically like to address issues of bullying of children with disabilities in schools, and he supports education inclusion. He plans to empower Americans with disabilities in the private sector, including employment.

Ben Carson – Republican Primary
Ben Carson, a physician, would repeal the Affordable Care Act. He would give Medicaid beneficiaries flat-rate Health Empowerment Accounts that they can use for medical expenses and to purchase and pay for insurance. Medicaid would be replaced by block grants to the states, which would go toward the purchase of private insurance policies and Health Empowerment Accounts. He would like to increase the pool of doctors for Medicaid/Medicare by allowing individuals in these programs to buy private insurance. He supports school choice for children with disabilities, and funding for tutoring and training for special education students. He would use block grants to states to pay for education. He has no other additional policies related to disability issues.

Chris Christie – Republican Primary
Chris Christie would replace Medicaid with block grants to states, and would add copays for most Medicaid recipients. He would simplify the Medicaid waiver process using templates. He would help those currently receiving disability return to the workforce. He includes no other information on disability, special education, or relevant healthcare policy on his website.

Hillary Clinton – Democratic Primary
Hillary Clinton would defend the Affordable Care Act and expand affordable coverage. She believes all Americans have a right to affordable health care. She wants to lower out-of-pocket costs and prescription drug costs. In terms of disability rights, she states she will fight for equal rights for people with disabilities and expand opportunities for people with disabilities. She specifically mentions improving access to employment for people with disabilities. Related to special education, she wants to ensure students with disabilities have access to education resources and support. She proposes universal preschool for four-year-olds. She supports a guaranteed 12 weeks of paid family medical leave for all Americans. She recently published a comprehensive autism plan the covers screening, insurance coverage, services, transition, caregiving, research, and enforcement of current legal standards.

Ted Cruz – Republican Primary
Ted Cruz would eliminate the Department of Education, and replace education funding with block grants to states. He provides no other information on disability, special education, or health care policy on his website.

Marco Rubio – Republican Primary
Marco Rubio would repeal Affordable Care Act and replace it with a tax credit families can use to buy insurance. He does want to ensure that those with pre-existing health conditions can get access to affordable coverage. He would replace Medicaid with block grants to the states. In terms of special education, he would like to expand portability of funding for children with special needs, and promote better learning opportunities for students with disabilities. He supports voluntary paid family leave, where employers would receive a tax credit if they chose to offer paid leave.

Bernie Sanders – Democratic Primary
Bernie Sanders would make healthcare a right for all Americans, and provide all Americans with single-payer Medicare plans. His plan eliminates healthcare networks, private insurance companies, and premiums. It would cover all basic services, including palliative care. He would lower prescription drug costs. In terms of disability issues, he specifically mentions increasing employment and education opportunities for people with disabilities, and expanding funding for Disability Resource Centers. He commits to fighting for equal rights for people with disabilities. He supports universal childcare and prekindergarten, and universal college tuition-free. He supports a guaranteed 12 weeks of paid family medical leave for all Americans, as well as guaranteed paid vacation and sick days.

Donald Trump – Republican Primary
Donald Trump provides no information on disability, special education, or relevant health care policy on his website.

Another Option for Information

Obviously, this article is a snapshot in time, and candidate positions may evolve and become more detailed over the course of the election cycle. A good place to find information on the election and disability is The RespectAbility Report, a project of RespectAbility. Whenever candidates touch on disability issues, this report blogs about it. They have also sent out a detailed questionnaire asking candidates their views on disability issues. These surveys ask candidates about everything from healthcare to employment and medical marijuana. While thus far only one candidate has responded, several others are in the process of doing so. Their answers–or their failure to respond–will likely speak volumes about their commitment to children with complex medical conditions and disabilities.

Author: Susan Agrawal • Original Date: 1/26/2016

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