Wait Period for Medicare for the Disabled Targeted for Repeal
Lawmakers and more than 75 disability advocacy groups have begun lobbying Congress and the future administration of President-elect Barack Obama to eliminate a two-year waiting period for people who are designated as too ill or disabled to work to qualify for Medicare coverage, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12).
Current rules require people who are deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration to wait two years before they are eligible for Medicare benefits (CongressDaily, 11/12).
According to the AP/Chronicle, at any given time, about 1.5 million people who are disabled are waiting to qualify for Medicare coverage. About 40% are uninsured at some point during the waiting period, and 25% are uninsured during the entire two-year period, the AP/Chronicle reports.
While some people rely on Medicaid in the interim, others "end up depleting their savings on private insurance and medical bills," according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12).
In some cases, "the gap in coverage leads patients to forgo treatment, resulting in more expensive care after insurance kicks in," according to Lee Grossman, president of the Autism Society of America (CongressDaily, 11/12).
Groups supporting the elimination of the wait period include the:
- American Cancer Society;
- Alzheimer's Association;
- National Association of People with AIDS;
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society; and
- Medicare Rights Center.
In addition, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has said he supports ending the waiting period (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12).
Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) are sponsoring companion bills (HR 154, S 2102) that over 10 years would gradually eliminate the waiting period and would establish a system to immediately grant coverage to people with life-threatening illnesses.
Green said, "Every year, we'd reduce it by a few months, so we get down to a level that's manageable for folks."
Bingaman and Green are hoping to get their bills included in a larger health care overhaul package that Obama likely will pursue once in office. If attaching the bill to a larger package is unsuccessful, Green and Bingaman plan to introduce the bills independently, according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12).
According to the AP/Chronicle, researchers estimate that eliminating the wait period in one step would cost about $9 billion annually, which is why Green and Bingaman have proposed a gradual elimination.
The AP/Chronicle reports that the cost would be offset in part by a $4 billion savings from Medicaid (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.