President Clinton invoked the example of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who steered the country through the Depression and World War II despite being hobbled by polio, as he signed a law letting millions of disabled Americans retain their government-funded health coverage when they take a job.
Fear of losing Medicare and Medicaid benefits is a major barrier keeping disabled people from seeking employment. Many severely disabled people rely on those federal programs because they cannot otherwise afford expensive, specialized care.
"This defies common sense and economic logic," Clinton said yesterday at a signing ceremony at the monument to FDR at the Tidal Basin.
About 9 million disabled adults receive Medicare and Medicaid. It is not known how many of them might make use of the law's provisions. Income above a certain level disqualifies people from the federal programs.
The law provides $150 million in grants to encourage states to let disabled workers buy into Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor. It also creates a $250 million Medicaid buy-in demonstration for people who are not so severely disabled that they cannot work. It extends, for 4 1/2 years, Medicare coverage for those in the disability insurance system who return to work.
Disability beneficiaries returning to the work force would get a voucher for purchasing health care services--either private or government.
The law also increases to 550,000 the number of disabled people who may receive rehabilitation and training services over the next 10 years.
Clinton, who recently called FDR the most significant person of the 20th century, called attention at the monument to the statue of Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair that is mostly hidden by a cloak.
"In his time . . . Roosevelt felt he needed to keep his wheelchair from public view," Clinton said. "Most people believed being disabled meant being unable, though he proved them wrong every day."