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Government shutdown won't stop SSDI, SSI or Medicaid benefits

If you rely on Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, you may have been worried by the news that, for the first time in 17 years, the federal government has shut down for lack of funding. With Congress unable to agree on an annual budget for the upcoming fiscal year, most programs ran out of money on Oct. 1, and 800,000 federal workers have been sent home on furlough. Those remaining will provide only the most essential services.

The good news is that payments to existing SSDI and SSI beneficiaries will continue as usual. That’s because the Social Security disability and retirement programs don’t rely on Congress’s annual appropriations bill -- legally, they’re set up to be funded on a continuing basis through the Social Security trust fund. The U.S. government is legally obligated to make these payments, even if the trust fund’s account technically only contains IOUs.

According to the Social Security Administration, local field offices will remain open, as well. Since the field offices are run by state employees, they can continue to process new claims and reconsiderations of denied claims, although there will undoubtedly be delays. Evaluating and reconsidering SSDI and SSI claims requires some input from the federal Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, and the SSA’s shutdown contingency plan notes that the ODAR will only be able to provide limited service. Appeal hearings before administrative law judges and the federal courts are on hold until the shutdown is over.

If you get your healthcare through Medicaid, you’ll be glad to know that it, too, is expected to operate largely as usual. Congress passed some advance appropriations to make sure state Medicaid offices received money before the Oct. 1 shutdown deadline. Patients shouldn’t experience much in the way of changes unless the shutdown drags on for a long time.

However, Medicaid has already been plagued with payment delays to providers, and the shutdown is likely to exacerbate that problem. Some Medicaid providers have said that if the payment delays get too bad, they simply won’t have the operating cash to continue serving Medicaid patients. That’s a problem for the longer term, though, so there’s no reason for patients to worry just yet.

Source: Disability Scoop, "What The Shutdown Means For Disability Services," Michelle Diament, Oct. 1, 2013

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