House Passes Bill to Help Disabled Save for Living Expenses

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The House overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday that will help the disabled pay for a host of expenses—including education, housing, transportation, and health—by cutting Medicare payments for penis pumps.

The bipartisan bill—known as the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE Act—would help the severely disabled establish tax-advantaged savings accounts so they could pocket tax-free savings to cover various qualified expenses. That would allow the disabled to qualify for means-tested benefit programs like Medicaid because much of their savings wouldn’t be included.

The $2.1 billion bill’s largest offset is ending Medicare coverage of vacuum erection systems, or penis pumps, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would save $444 million. A government report last year found that Medicare paid more than twice as much for retail for the pumps.

The bill has wide support in the House and Senate — the largest of any other bill this session, supporters noted — and passed 404-17 on Wednesday. Supporters have been pushing the bill since it was first introduced in 2006 and marked it as a huge victory for the disability community. Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House GOP leadership team, said that the ABLE Act could help individuals like her son Cole, who was born in 2007 with Down syndrome and joined his mother on the floor for the vote.

“We were told don’t put any assets in his name because it may disqualify him for programs that he may need in the future,” McMorris Rodgers told TIME. “And it just seems wrong to me.”

“And I think that the ABLE Act is going to help fix that,” she added. “It’s going to help create a way for families to save money [and] set money aside to cover qualified expenses. It can go to education, transportation, housing—those are the benefits that would allow our son potentially to live independently and to hopefully work.”

A companion bill in the Senate is expected to pass.

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