[r63] Helping disabled Hoosiers

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, April 25, 2014

When we think about protecting our most vulnerable members of society, we often focus on children, or even the elderly. However, regardless of their age, Hoosiers with disabilities have distinctive needs that deserve our care and attention. This session, we worked together to make that a reality.

One example of this is Senate Enrolled Act (SEA) 61, which gives local governments the option to offer short-term disability programs to their Emergency Medical Services (EMS) workers. Under current law, local EMS providers are eligible for worker’s compensation if they become disabled as a result of an injury or illness. However, once these benefits are exhausted, municipalities are not able to offer additional insurance. 

When this legislation was heard in committee, one of my House colleagues, who is also a retired firefighter, explained that many firefighters who are injured or become ill expend their worker’s compensation and begin pulling from their pensions in order to cover medical expenses and provide for their families. 

Starting July 1, EMS providers who have become disabled as the result of a work-related injury or illness will be able to get additional short-term benefits from the municipality, if their worker’s compensation or occupational disease compensation have been exhausted or simply does not cover it. This will give both local units and emergency responders greater peace of mind and flexibility in choosing how to best ensure the safety and care of their employees.

We also passed SEA 397 which deals specifically with children who have disabilities. Currently, if a disabled child lives in a nursing facility, and cannot be rehabilitated, then they do not qualify for wheelchair reimbursement from the Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning. This new law, effective July 1, requires Medicaid to reimburse a nursing facility for a specialized or nonstandard wheelchair that is purchased for one of these individuals.

For many of these children, the little things that we take for granted, such as turning our heads, is a major achievement for them. As a father of four, it is disheartening to think that Medicaid will not pay for replacement wheelchairs for certain children simply because they are unable to be rehabilitated; especially when these specialty wheelchairs can cost up to $4,000 or $5,000 each. The passage of this legislation will allow children with severe disabilities to get the proper equipment they need to obtain a higher quality of life.

While this may not be an issue that you have heard me speak of many times in the past, it is one that I share a personal connection with. I know several people who are recovering from accidents on the farm, have been in serious vehicle collisions or have a genetic disability. I understand and have witnessed firsthand what a battle it is for them to tackle life’s daily tasks. Even during a short session, it is the very least that we can do to help these individuals and to give them the highest quality of life possible. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to help and support these bills this session, which I know will directly benefit people in our community.