How Does Disability Enrollment Work?

One’s eligibility for dissability enrollment can vary depending on a variety of factors– but there are a lot of misconceptions about this perk.

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Within the US there are two main federal programs—Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs—designed to provide assistance for those with long-term disabilities. There are some notable differences between the two programs, but both are administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who meet certain medical criteria for disability enrollment will qualify for benefits under either program. 

Before getting into the specifics of disability enrollment and how it works, there is an important distinction to make: Social Security Disability Insurance (often just referred to as ‘disability insurance’) pays benefits to disabled individuals and certain members of their families if they are insured– meaning that they have paid enough Social Security taxes. Supplemental Security Income is different in that it pays out benefits depending on financial need.

What qualifies me for disability enrollment?

To qualify for disability, you’ll need to make sure you fit the definition of disability set by the Social Security Administration. Here are the three main components of being considered disabled, stated by the Social Security Administration:

  • You cannot do work that you did before;
  • We decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

You can have a deeper look at the questions that are used to determine eligibility for disability enrollment here.

Can I enroll in disability even if I don’t have health insurance?

Yes—there’s nothing about having health insurance that would disqualify someone for disability enrollment. Think about it along the lines of Social Security payouts—they’re something you earn as you work and pay taxes throughout your life. One important thing to note is that you can receive both disability benefits and Medicare benefits if you qualify for both.

Does disability enrollment depend on age?

Not directly. While there’s no set age associated with qualifying for disability enrollment, qualifying is a function of how long you’ve worked and how many work credits you have— the units by which the government measures your ability to qualify. While the exact amount needed for one work credit changes often, in 2018 one credit is earned every time you earn $1,320 in wages or self-employment income.

However, younger workers can sometimes qualify even if they have fewer credits. The usual minimum number of credits to qualify is 40, but there are options for earning credits and self-employment earnings count.

How do I enroll in disability?

There are several ways that you can go about filing for disability enrollment. You can fill out an online application, call a toll-free phone number at 1-800-772-1213 (or TTY 1-800-325-0778 if you’re hard of hearing), or visit your local social security office.

An important element to note is that if your application is denied, you have the right to appeal it and ask the Social Security Administration to take another look. If you get a letter saying that you don’t qualify, that letter will contain instructions on how to appeal the decision and the amount of time you have to initiate an appeal.

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