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Bill would eliminate harmful waiting periods for Social Security disability benefits

An important piece of legislation pending before Congress would eliminate mandatory waiting periods that delay the receipt of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits by those who have qualified. The bill would ensure individuals with disabilities get access to health care and necessary resources they need to survive.

The Stop the Wait Act, S. 2496, would remove the current mandatory five-month waiting period to begin receiving Social Security disability payments. It would also remove the two-year waiting period for Social Security disability beneficiaries to receive Medicare.

Currently, Social Security disability beneficiaries must wait through five full calendar months of continuous disability to receive their first payment. This is five months AFTER the date they are first considered fully disabled. The Washington Post has reported that government data shows more than 10,000 Americans died in 2017 while waiting for benefits.

The Social Security Administration has said that the five-month waiting period is designed to ensure that benefits are only paid to persons with long-term disabilities. The waiting period allegedly weeds out those with short-term conditions.

However, the five-month period is an arbitrary construction. There is no real medical evidence that five months makes a condition “long-term.” In addition, the SSA has already determined that the applicant is disabled and fully qualified for benefits, yet still makes them wait another five months.

Meanwhile, the wait for obtaining benefits has already become too long, typically taking anywhere from 18 to 24 months to get a hearing and receive payments.

Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania introduced the bill. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Brown of Ohio, and Vermont Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy. In addition, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania introduced a version of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bipartisan co-sponsors said that the waiting periods are harming the health of individuals with disabilities while depriving them of benefits for which they have paid. They note that the Social Security disability program is paid for by payroll withholdings from every paycheck a worker earns.

“Workers who have paid into the Social Security Disability Insurance fund should not be denied their benefits at the time they need them most,” Senator Casey said in a statement. “For many individuals living with disabilities, these waiting periods can be deadly. We must eliminate this barrier to accessing necessary and often life-saving supports and ensure timely, equitable access to health care.”

“Social Security Disability Insurance is a lifeline for individuals who can’t work because of a disability,” said Senator Brown. “This legislation eliminates unnecessary red tape that leads to gaps in disability insurance and health care coverage and ensures Americans don’t lose access to the benefits they have earned.”

In addition to phasing out the waiting periods, the legislation would direct the National Academy of Medicine to conduct a study to ensure the elimination of the waiting periods are resulting in better health and community living outcomes for eligible SSDI recipients and their families.

The goal is to ensure that individuals with disabilities get the access to resources and health care they desperately need.

“Individuals with disabilities should not face an onerous waiting period for the Social Security benefits they earned,” Congressman Fitzpatrick said. “Improving access to health care is vitally important, and I am proud to support this bipartisan legislation to give Americans the care they need in a proper time frame.”

The bill is pending consideration by Congress and faces an uphill battle for passage. You can help. It is important to remember that your elected officials are public servants who represent you. Let them hear your voice on this issue. Contact your senators and representatives and tell them to support this important change to the law. The health and welfare of people with disabilities depend on it.

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