How a Repeal of Obamacare Could Affect Persons With Disabilities

The Affordable Care Act’s ban on preexisting condition exclusions was a big benefit to those with disabilities: they were allowed to purchase insurance despite having preexisting medical issues, without having to pay higher rates or suffer through waiting periods. But the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has also had a positive effect on Social Security disability, Medicare, and Medicaid. Repealing it, or reversing course on preexisting conditions, could be a big setback for these programs.

The Affordable Care Act undeniably helped lower the number of people on Social Security disability and disability-related Medicare. Since it went into effect, annual applications for Social Security disability have decreased by over 12%. And 150,000 fewer people are receiving disability benefits today then were in 2014. While there were economic factors at play, affordable health care played a role. Historically, many folks with preexisting conditions who lost their work-based health coverage applied for disability benefits so they could get health care benefits. They knew that an approval for Social Security disability meant they could either qualify early for Medicare, or, if they had very low income (or somewhat low income and very high medical expenses), for Medicaid. After Obamacare was passed, some of these folks undoubtedly were able to buy insurance on the health care exchanges—or get coverage through their state’s Medicaid expansion—and didn’t have to file for benefits.

Not only that, better-health-more-likely-employedbut since the Affordable Care Act gave persons with disabilities or chronic medical conditions access to good health care and reasonably priced medications, more of them were no doubt able to work despite having physical or mental impairments; fewer of them may have needed to apply for disability benefits.

And because of better health care and access to medications, those who couldn’t work due to a temporary illness or injury might have been less likely to need to be off work indefinitely. They might have recovered sooner, thanks to regular doctors’ visits and proper medication, and not have had to apply for disability benefits.

A repeal of the Affordable Care Act and/or the preexisting condition exclusion could reverse these improvements. In addition, taking health care away from people with severe disabilities makes it harder for them to get approved for the benefits they need. Disability applicants who aren’t able to see a doctor for treatment regularly, and who don’t have lab results or MRIs to prove their disability, are often denied. When applicants have poor medical records, Social Security spends more money to send applicants to consultative medical exams—and then often denies them anyway. In short, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act or the ban on preexisting condition exclusions is likely to affect the disabled more than others.

 

Minimum Wage Increases for 2017

With the start of the new year, the minimum wage has increased in 19 states (along with a few increases scheduled for later in the year). The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25; this is the lowest hourly amount that employers can pay employees in the United States. However, if a state has a higher minimum wage, the employer must pay the higher amount. Likewise, if a city or county has a higher minimum wage than the federal or state rate, the employer must pay the higher amount.

As of January 1, 2017, the minimum wage increased to the following amounts:

  • Alaska: $9.80
  • Arizona: $10
  • Arkansas: $8.50
  • California: $10 (employers with up to 25 employees) and $10.50 (employers with 26 or more employees)
  • Colorado: $9.30
  • Connecticut: $10.10
  • Florida: $8.10
  • Hawaii: $9.25
  • Maine: $9
  • Massachusetts: $11
  • Michigan: $8.90
  • Missouri: $7.70
  • Montana: $8.15
  • New Jersey: $8.44
  • New York: $9.70
  • Ohio: $8.15
  • South Dakota: $8.65
  • Vermont: $10
  • Washington: $11

On July 1, 2017, the minimum wage will increase in the following states:

  • Maryland: $9.25
  • Oregon: $10.25

On December 31, 2017, the minimum wage will increase in the following state:

  • New York: $10.40

Employers and employees should check with their city or county to find out if there is a local minimum wage. For more information about the rules in your state, see Your Right to Minimum Wage.

Losing the Home Office Space Means Losing the Tax Deduction, Too

Overtime2A recent article in Bloomberg reported that dedicated space for a home office is “less of a selling point” than it once was for home sellers. It’s appearing less often in real estate ads and marketing, and new-home developers are shifting toward open-floor plans containing flexible spaces, workspace nooks, and lots of handy electrical outlets.

That’s all very well as a reflection of how modern connectivity allows many people to work from their sofa, in their pajamas, or at just about any time and place in their home. But if you’re operating some sort of business principally from your home, it’s worth also considering what you might lose out on when tax time rolls around if you don’t have a dedicated home office space.

The home office tax deduction lets people who meet various legal requirements deduct a percentage of their home-related costs, such as utilities, rent, insurance, depreciation, mortgage interest, real estate taxes, and certain casualty losses, repairs, and improvements.

But here’s the key thing to remember: the deduction applies only if you regularly use part of your home exclusively for your trade or business. The IRS can be a stickler on this point–if, for instance, your office is also the family TV room, an auditor who notices that might not allow the deduction.

Any shared use of a room or equipment can be problematic. So if it gets to the point where you can’t point to ANY part of your home that’s solely used to run your business, say bye bye to the deduction.

Check out Nolo’s articles on Home Deductions for more on the exact rules and benefits of the home office tax deduction.

 

Keep Your Eyes on the Road: 2017 Brings New Cellphone Restrictions for California Drivers

Existing California law restricts motorists from talking on a cellphone or texting while driving, except when using a device in voice-operated, hands-free mode. The current text messaging restriction applies to writing, sending, and reading texts on a cellphone or other wireless device while driving. The law doesn’t, however, address other uses of cellphones and wireless devices. So common smartphone and tablet features like internet browsers and GPS—which don’t involve text messaging—aren’t covered. (Cal. Veh. Code §§ 23123, 23123.5, 23124 (2016).)

Realizing the deficienciesroad-people-street-smartphone in the current law, the California Legislature passed legislation (Assembly Bill 1785, “A.B. 1785”) this past year to fill the gap. The new law will prohibit California motorists from “holding and operating” any cellphone or wireless device while driving. By using this broad wording, the Legislature presumably intended to restrict motorists from doing anything on their devices that could be a distraction. Several exceptions apply to the new rule, one of which permits drivers to turn on or off a mounted GPS, so long as it requires only one tap or swipe to do so. Manufacturer-installed systems that are embedded in the vehicle are also exempt. (Cal. Veh. Code § 23123.5 (version effective Jan. 1, 2017).)

(Read more about California’s distracted driving laws and the penalties for a violation.)

Holiday Season Great for Home Deals—If You Can Cope With the Downsides

holiday lightsA recent, informal survey by the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) asked its members—real estate brokerages that only represent home buyers—to report in on the challenges of shopping for a home during the holiday season.

The responses are in most cases either entertaining—“Aftermath of a New Year’s Eve party including passed out guests complete with open and spilled adult beverages”—or daunting—“Sellers reluctant to show because house is a wreck or too much company in house” and “difficulties in meeting deadlines when financial institutions or other offices are closed or industry personnel (loan officer, inspector, etc.) take time off.”

Difficulties aside, however, the NAEBA agents noted a silver lining to home shopping while everyone else is gift shopping: “Since we know anyone whose home is on the market during the holidays is highly motivated, we can be more aggressive in offering price and terms of the contract.”

Translated, that means that no seller in their right mind would put a home on the market during this cold, dreary, and distracted time of year—and therefore anyone who does so probably has a pressing reason.

Divorce, job change, or other change in life circumstances might be among the reasons. The seller basically needs to move, and move now.

That puts the prospective home buyer in a strong negotiating position. For help, see Nolo’s articles on Buying a House or Property.  Just step carefully on those frozen front steps, and don’t close the purchase until you have a chance to persuade a home inspector to put down the eggnog and come check the roof for leaks.