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Navigating the Maze of Disability

Navigating through the maze of disability insurance. 

BY BUNMI ISHOLA
PUBLISHED TUESDAY, MAY 18, 2010
Applying for disability benefits can be like navigating through a maze. The process is different for each person, the paperwork can be overwhelming, and even figuring out what type of disability to apply for can be daunting.

“For the average person, there is no reason to know this information until you need it,” says Joanna Morales, director of the Cancer Legal Resource Center. “And at that point, you’re at a disadvantage.”

About 40 percent of people diagnosed with cancer are working-age adults, and many get to a point where they are unable to work, even if only for a brief period, Morales says. For those times, patients and survivors should consider applying for disability.

Since qualifying for disability requires clearing a number of hurdles, Morales suggests patients begin thinking about the application process from the time they are diagnosed—even if they don’t think they need it at the time. So if patients realize they do need it down the road, they can avoid being caught in a lurch.

Figuring out what type of disability to apply for is the first challenge. There are short-term and long-term disability programs that maybe provided by an employer or by a private plan. Through the Social Security Administration, the federal government provides long-term disability benefits with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

“When you talk about disability, people will confuse short-term disability and long-term disability insurance, and Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income,” says Michelle Shanks, senior case manager at the Patient Advocate Foundation. “They are kind of confusing, but they can go hand-in-hand.”

Short-term disability, generally for periods of up to six months, is usually provided by an employer or a private plan. However, five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) and Puerto Rico provide short-term disability, each with its own requirements.

Long-term disability is for an illness or injury that would last 12 or more months, and/or is expected to be terminal. Depending on the policy, benefits will only be paid after an individual has been out of work for at least six months.

The government’s SSI program is a needs-based program for disabled individuals with low or no income. Those who receive SSI benefits may also be eligible to receive Medicaid, a state-managed health program for low-income individuals. SSDI benefits are based on a person’s earnings and how much money has been paid in social security taxes. However, persons on SSDI must wait two years to be eligible for Medicare.

To gain a firm grasp of which type of disability you may be eligible for and the various application processes, the Social Security Administration website and www.cancerandcareers.org serve as useful resources. Contact your employer’s human resources department for any questions regarding employer-based STD and LTD benefits.

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