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Navigating the System: When You’re Disabled
A disability is a health problem that limits a person's ability to do everyday activities, such as hearing, seeing, or walking.
The United States government has laws and resources to help people who have disabilities. A disability should not get in the way of your right to a job (and getting employer-provided health insurance). And if you are unable to work, government-funded benefits and/or supplemental disability income insurance might be able to help lower some costs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect on July 26, 1990. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified people with disabilities in all employment-related activities, such as:
According to the ADA, a disability is a mental or physical problem that limits a major life activity. If you can do a job with reasonable accommodation (accessible facilities, job restructuring, or special equipment) the ADA prohibits job discrimination against you because of your disability.
If you have a disability and are able to work, try finding an employer who provides a group health insurance plan. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide employees with disabilities equal access to the health insurance offered to other employees. But look closely at an employer’s health insurance plan. The ADA does not protect you from pre-existing condition clauses that may be part of the plan. This means that you may not be covered for certain healthcare costs related to your disability under some plans. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers are prohibited from denying coverage to anyone with an existing condition. For those in between, the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) program can be used to bridge coverage gaps.
The US Social Security Administration (SSA) has two programs that pay benefits to certain people with disabilities. These are the Social Security Disability Insurance program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. You can apply for either program through the Social Security Administration.
Social Security Disability Insurance Program
This program pays benefits to Social Security taxpayers who cannot work because of a disability that is expected to last more than one year or result in death. If you qualify for this program, you will get monthly payments that may begin after you have been disabled for at least 6 months. These payments will continue as long as your health problem has not improved and you cannot work. The SSA will review your case at regular intervals to determine if you are still disabled. You must tell the SSA if you get better, if there is a change in your ability to work, or if you return to work.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program
The SSI program pays benefits to certain people with disabilities who are low-income and have few resources. SSI benefits are also available to some disabled or blind children. You may also be able to get SSI payments while you work. It depends on your earnings.
Medicare and Medicaid
If you get SSI, you may also qualify for Medicaid. This is a state-administered federal healthcare plan that can help pay doctor and hospital bills. You may also qualify for Medicare. This is the federal health insurance program that covers healthcare costs for most Americans 65 years of age and older and for people with certain disabilities. Contact the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to find out if you qualify.
Some states can extend Medicaid coverage to working people, help pay Medicare premiums and other healthcare costs, and provide other services to people with disabilities. You can find out more about the types of services your state provides by going to their official website.
Disability Income Insurance
Government benefits can be very helpful if you are eligible. But many people do not qualify for them. If this happens, you should know how to replace your lost monthly income if you become disabled and are unable to work.
Disability income insurance provides people with income if they get sick or injured and are unable to work. Some employers offer disability income insurance through group plans. People can also buy individual policies from insurance companies. The benefits of these plans vary. Read the policy carefully when deciding on the type of insurance and how much of it you need. Ideally, disability income insurance should pay at least 60% of your income.
Your Overall Health
If you are or become disabled, it is important to not only deal with your disability-related health needs, but also to take care of your overall health and well-being. You can take maintain your overall health by eating a healthful diet, getting regular exercise, and getting routine preventive care.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
National Council on Disability
The ADA: your employment rights as an individual with a disability. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website. Available at: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/ada18.html. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Benefits for people with disabilities. Social Security Administration website. Available at: http://www.ssa.gov/disability. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Disability and health promotion. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth. Accessed October 20, 2021.
National Medicaid and CHIP program information. Available at: https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/national-medicaid-chip-program-information/index.html. Accessed October 20, 2021.
What you need to know when you get social security disability benefits. Social Security Administration website. Available at: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10153.pdf. Accessed October 20, 2021.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
- Review Date: 10/2021
- Update Date: 10/20/2021