’Kal’s Law’ would help disabled people with jobs to keep key health benefits

Bill increases the amount of income those with disabilities can earn, while still keeping their Medicaid benefits

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - People with disabilities who want to have jobs are often faced with an unfortunate decision: If they make too much money, they risk losing their Medicaid benefits.

Many disabled individuals rely on Medicaid for health coverage, but because Medicaid is an income-based system, a single adult cannot make more than $1,198 a month.

But a bill that would increase the amount of income those individuals can earn, while keeping their coverage, appears to be a step closer to becoming law.

The bill has been named “Kal’s Law,” in honor of Kal Warrington Silvert, a former UH Manoa student who was born with spinal muscular atrophy type 2.

Kal's disability left him unable to move his arms and legs, and by his first birthday, his family knew he would never walk.

Despite his physical challenges, loved ones say Kal didn't let his disability stop him from living life to the fullest.

With a motorized wheelchair and the assistance of 24-hour aides, he graduated from Iolani School and attended college.

"My brother was very articulate," said Che Silvert, Kal's younger brother. "He really wanted to be a professor and he wanted to be a writer. He knew how to speak better than I ever could and he knew how to charm everybody."

But when Kal found out he would lose his 24-hour care — and potentially die — if he got a job, his family says it was a huge psychological blow.

"It made him really sad. I remember when he was in high school, I found him crying. It was kind of like, be able to live or work, and no one should really have to make that decision," said Silvert.

Kal passed away in 2012 at the age of 23 during his final year of college.

Lawmakers hope the legislation can help others like Kal.

“We really needed to figure out a way to empower and create initiatives for those who are disabled to fulfill their lives without punishing them by removing what benefits we give them,” said state Rep. Joy San Buenaventura, chair of the House Committee on Human Services.

Kal's Law is up for a vote during House and Senate negotiations Tuesday.

Supporters of the bill say it's an important step to implementing a full Medicaid buy-in program in the state.

Hawaii is still one of the last states in the nation to do so.

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