The federal Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program is the financial safety net American workers rely on when their health is dealt a life-changing curve ball. Yet for millions of qualifying Americans struck down with terminal illnesses, they never get the chance to collect the benefits they’ve earned because of one strict rule the Social Security Administration (SSA) must adhere to. That rule is the five-month waiting period.
Why SSA Follows the Five-Month Rule
The reason for the five-month waiting period is to safeguard the Social Security disability system against fraud by making sure that an individual’s disability is long-term.
Every SSDI beneficiary must wait five full months from their established onset date of disability in order to receive cash benefits. Even those who qualify for Compassionate Allowance, which fast tracks claims through the disability approval process, must wait five months for their full cash benefit. The rule has been part of Social Security’s code of regulations since 1956. The only way the rule can be changed is through an act of Congress.
Unfair Wait for Benefits
Yet, for people with little time left, like Tina Moyer who died in January 2012 within 11 weeks of her cancer diagnosis, the logic of the rule doesn’t fit the circumstances. Her husband, Brian Moyer promised her that he would fight to change the federal rule so that others with terminal illnesses could get benefits right away. He set up an online petition to gain support to push Congress to eliminate the five-month waiting period for the terminally ill saying, “I ask all of you to assist in fighting ‘The Good Fight’ for the terminally ill and for the future of our working citizens.”
Senators Step Up to Change SSA Rule
His fight has led to a small victory. A bipartisan bill called the Expedited Disability Insurance Payments for Terminally Ill Individuals Act of 2013, was introduced to Congress in July by Senators John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio that, if passed, would effectively eliminate the waiting period for people with a life expectancy of six months or less.
In a press release, Senator Brown said, “Americans with a terminal illness shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can afford groceries or pay their utility bills. This bill would ensure that those certified to have a terminal illness can receive the Social Security Disability Insurance they deserve, and the peace of mind that comes with it.”
In lieu of the five-month waiting period, the bill still protects the SSDI program from fraud. It stipulates that “at least two physicians who are not related and not in the same physician group practice” must certify that the individual has six months or less to live, which is the SSA’s definition of “terminally ill.” Then, unlike the Compassionate Allowance program that pays 100 percent of an individual’s cash benefit after the five-month waiting period, terminally ill beneficiaries would receive benefits through a pro-rated system: 50 percent in the first month; 75 percent in the second month; 100 percent in the third through twelfth month.
Moyer is pleased about the bill but says, “Now we’ve got to convince all of Congress. The fight has only begun.”
Therein lies the challenge. This is not the first time a bill to eliminate the five-month waiting period for the terminally ill has been introduced to Congress. In 2009 and again in 2011 the Social Security Fairness for the Terminally Ill Act failed passage.
According to govtrack.us, this bill only has a one percent chance of getting past congressional committee for consideration in the House and Senate.