Advocacy Group Seeks End to Medicare Wait for Those With Disabilities

A Medicare advocacy group has begun pressing Congress to pass a bill that would eliminate the two-year wait imposed on individuals with disabilities before they can qualify for Medicare.

Individuals with severe and permanent disabilities who are under age 65 may qualify for Medicare but to receive this coverage they must wait two years after becoming eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. The Medicare Rights Center is working to persuade Congress to eliminate the waiting period, and as part of this effort it has released a report telling the stories of 21 individuals who are trying to survive the waiting period.

According to the report, which was funded by the Commonwealth Fund, approximately 1.5 million men and women can't return to work and are waiting to receive Medicare coverage for their health care needs. Nearly 39 percent are uninsured for at least some of the time during the waiting period, and more than one-quarter have no insurance throughout the waiting period. The report tells the story of a man who was left with medical debts totaling $50,000 and compromised health caused by lack of medications and treatment. Another woman attempted suicide because of the shame and depression she felt at having to ask for handouts and go without treatment.

While Congress has eliminated the waiting period for those with end-stage kidney disease and Lou Gehrig's disease, the Medicare Rights Center wants to see the waiting period eliminated for all individuals. Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) has introduced a bill that would phase out the waiting period; a similar measure Green introduced last year failed. Estimates are that it would cost between $5 billion and $8 billion a year to offer Medicare to individuals with disabilities during the waiting period.

To read the report, click here.

For an article in USA Today on the report, click here.