Getting benefits through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is a great relief to a person under age 65 who is unable to earn a living because of a disability. Its monthly payments guarantee some degree of financial security.
An added benefit to SSDI is health insurance coverage through Medicare. But there is a precarious two-year gap between receiving approval for disability benefits and becoming eligible for Medicare’s insurance coverage. The practical impact of this waiting period is that numerous SSDI beneficiaries are temporarily both unemployed because of their disabilities and without health insurance.
Lower-income SSDI applicants may qualify for Medicaid, especially if they live in one of the 39 states that have expanded Medicaid to include anyone whose income is below 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, no disability required. But this still leaves a large number with higher incomes who can face the life-threatening consequences of going without health insurance during the two-year waiting period. If this is the case for you, what are your options?
First of all, it might be possible to at least narrow the two-year gap by harnessing any delays in getting your case heard by the Social Security Administration (SSA). If, for example, you were on a waiting list for six months before a hearing with an ALJ (administrative law judge, the SSA official who adjudicates SSDI cases), that period might be counted toward the two-year delay in receiving Medicare coverage. In this instance, that would leave an 18-month period to cover.
Another possibility is individual insurance purchased on the exchanges made possible by the Affordable Care Act. Although coverage can be expensive depending on where you live, be sure to research your options. You may be eligible for government subsidies to help you pay the premiums for an individual health plan if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) ranges from 100 to 400 percent of the previous year’s federal poverty guidelines.
The subsidies are tax credits that are available to help middle-income and low-income people afford health insurance when they don’t have access to affordable employer-sponsored coverage or government-sponsored coverage (Medicaid or Medicare). Most eligible enrollees take those tax credits in advance, paid directly to their health insurance carrier each month to offset the amount that has to be paid in premiums.
It goes without saying that no one, least of all someone with disabilities, should be without health insurance coverage. With careful planning and research, you may manage to navigate this insurance gap at little or no cost. Be sure to consult with a special needs planner, who can advise you on your qualifications and the laws in your home state.