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In May of 2009 I stopped working and began the process of applying for both of these programs. Despite the horror stories I had heard, I qualified without difficulty. That was a mixed blessing. I certainly dreaded an ugly appeals process and maybe even being required to return to the workforce with my tail between my legs. But getting so easily approved was confirmation that I was, well, a hurting unit. That was the mixed blessing part. I wrote about my initial disability approvals here.
My private disability insurance is two-tiered. For the initial 2.5 year period I only needed to establish that I could no longer perform my current occupation. After the 2.5 year period, which ends this month, I would be required to meet a higher standard. I needed to prove that I could no longer perform any occupation for which I was qualified. This summer, well ahead of the deadline, my private disability insurance company buried me with a mountain of paperwork that my doctors and I needed to dig out from underneath.
We completed our documents, sent them in, crossed our fingers, and held our breath. A few short weeks later, we get the "good news" that I am so disabled that I can't perform any occupation. As such, the insurance company is going to provide me with a monthly stipend until I'm 65 years old. Unless I get better, which is almost certainly not going to happen, this portion of my income will be the status quo for the next 17 years.
The other milestone that occurred 2.5 years after my last day of work, rounded off to November 1 of this year, is that I now qualify for Medicare, which is the public sector insurance most closely associated with elderly people in the United States, but also available to disabled people. So now I have low-cost medical insurance through the federal government. Not bad.
In terms of coverage, Medicare is very similar what I've always had through my employer, with one exception. My old insurance would only pay $3000 toward a power wheelchair, which is a ridiculously small amount. Therefore, my inside-the-home wheelchair, as opposed to my iBot which is primarily my outside-of-the-home wheelchair, is a very basic unit without many of the features that full-time wheelchair users should have. Now, with Medicare, I can own a power wheelchair that will in fact meet the needs of someone who spends 16 hours a day, seven days a week in a seated position. I just began that approval process, and I'm expecting a shiny, new wheelchair for Christmas (give or take a couple of weeks).
There is one disconcerting aspect of Medicare that I'd like to address here. As I explained above, there is a waiting period of 2.5 years after you stop working due to disability until Medicare kicks in. That was an inconvenience for me, but I was able to bridge the gap because Kim has private, family medical insurance available to us through her employer.
However, what if I had been the sole employed member of our family? What if Kim was a stay-at-home mom? What would we have done? This 2.5 year waiting period is something that I just cannot get my arms around. If someone goes on disability, it is almost certainly because they have a severe medical condition that requires significant, urgent, and expensive care. Yet, if the individual is no longer employed, which he isn't if he is going on disability, then he has no affordable, private medical insurance and he has no public medical insurance. This is just crazy!
I have a friend, let's call her Jill, who has progressive MS and is the only member of her family with medical insurance available through her employer. By all rights she should no longer be working. Continued employment can't be good for her advanced MS. Yet she feels she has no choice, because if she goes on disability then there will be no medical insurance for herself for 2.5 years, and no medical insurance at all for her husband and children. This is just crazy!
Now that I have my permanent, private disability insurance approved, and now that I have Social Security income and Medicare, my situation appears stable until I reach age 65. At that point I will lose my private disability insurance, but Social Security and Medicare will stay with me until I die, hopefully at a ripe old age, and hopefully cured of MS (ha, ha, good one Mitch).
I may be overly optimistic. Given the budget cuts that are being considered by our federal and state governments, I could very well see my public sector benefits erode over time. But I have a suggestion. Let's find ways to balance our budgets that don't further disadvantage the most vulnerable members of our society. Wouldn't that be nice?