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Senate proposal would rush SSDI benefits to the terminally ill

Under current Social Security disability law, even when someone qualifies for benefits they don't kick in until the sixth month of the applicant's disability. The purpose of this waiting period is in part to prevent fraud and abuse of the system by people who are only temporarily disabled from work. In the case of many people who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance because they can't work due to a terminal illness, however, that five-month waiting period essentially denies them their benefits while they most need them.

To resolve that, a bipartisan group of Senators has introduced a bill called the "Expedited Disability Insurance Payments for Terminally Ill Individuals Act of 2013," which would front-load benefits for the terminally ill so they could begin receiving SSDI payments immediately upon approval.

"Americans with a terminal illness shouldn't have to worry about whether they can afford groceries or pay their utility bills," one of the bill's sponsors explained.

In order to qualify for the program, an SSDI applicant must be diagnosed with a terminal illness, which would be defined as having a life-expectancy prognosis of six months or less, as certified by two independent physicians. Many terminal illnesses are already listed on the Social Security Administration's Compassionate Allowances list, which means that the applicants' claims could also qualify for special treatment in the application process.

While the Compassionate Allowances program doesn't directly affect benefits, it does cut through a lot of the SSA's backlog-related red tape. In combination with the new proposal, the Compassionate Allowances program could give the terminally ill a real opportunity to receive their SSDI checks when they most need them.

The proposed change isn't intended to increase SSDI benefits for the terminally ill. Instead, the benefits are front-loaded so that qualified applicants can receive a check with 50 percent of their projected benefits in the first month and 75 percent in the third month. After that, the benefits that would otherwise have been denied during the five-month waiting period are gradually paid back through a slight reduction in benefits over the longer term.

Prospects for the legislation are uncertain, of course. No companion bill has yet been introduced in the House, and Congress will soon leave for its month-long August recess. The needs of terminally ill people who can't work and who have paid all of their working lives into the Social Security Disability Insurance program, however, cannot wait.

Source: Insurancenewsnet.com, "Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Expedite Social Security Benefits for Terminally Ill," July 18, 2013

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