The “Stop the Wait Act” is a bill to amend Title II of the Social Security Act. Its purpose is to eliminate the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits waiting period and the Medicare waiting period for disabled individuals, as follows:
- End the five-month wait for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) eligibility for disabled claimants;
- End the five-month wait for surviving spouse and surviving divorced spouse benefits;
- Phase-out the 24-month waiting period for Medicare eligibility.
After you finally win the Social Security Disability benefits you’ve applied for, what’s the second most important part of your claim? Ready access to that money so you or your family can pay costly medical bills and continue critical health care treatment. After all, SSDI is a funded insurance program that you earn by paying FICA taxes and working sufficient hours. But getting prompt SSDI payment is far from what actually happens. Hopefully, that’s about to change.
Background: Why “Stop the Wait” Must Pass
The Social Security Administration (SSA) currently requires SSDI claimants to wait five months from the onset of disability before they can receive monthly disability payments. This causes great suffering and financial hardship for those in dire need of benefits. A 2019 senate new release reports “In 2017, more than 10,000 Americans died while waiting for SSDI benefits to begin. The wait times greatly affect adults with rapidly progressing diseases such as Huntington’s disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and other conditions.”
Imagine waiting three to five months for an initial disability determination from SSA, and if approved, waiting another five months because of the mandatory waiting period.
Now imagine your initial application for benefits is denied, and denied again at Reconsideration. This is the reality for about 70% of all SSDI claims. The next step in the disabled person’s journey is the ALJ hearing. It is at this step that most claims are won. However, SSA statistics show the average ALJ hearing processing time for 2020 is 386 days — more than a year!
Tack on the five months mandatory wait time, the disabled individual has been forced to wait 1½ years to even begin receiving a disability check.
This is the inexcusable, often deadly delay that most Social Security Disability applicants and their families must face. Severely disabled claimants stand to
- lose their homes
- exhaust their savings, face bankruptcy, or endure other financial crises
- die waiting for benefits that never come
Add a 24-month wait to obtain health coverage through Medicare. While disability claimants are not bound by the “age 65” rule, once granted SSDI they must wait a full two years before accessing medical coverage through Medicare.
Where Is the “Stop the Wait” Bill Now?
The Stop the Wait Act is hoped to become law in 2021. The bill was introduced in Congress in 2019 as H.R. 4386 by Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas.
The legislation is fully endorsed by many disabled advocacy organizations, including the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), an organization active in the legislative advocacy for disabled persons.
Dozens of advocacy groups have met with members of Congress to form a coalition to uphold Stop the Wait legislation. As legal representatives for thousands of Social Security disability claimants, our own attorneys work daily with individuals who struggle to survive SSDI’s five-month waiting period and Medicare’s 24-month waiting period. We witness their journeys through pain, suffering, and financial hardship caused by the waiting periods.
In the coming months, such real-world testimony and evidence from this coalition will be heard by Congress, to ensure all voting members understand the dire need for the swift and permanent elimination of these waiting periods.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office,
- about 48,000 individuals, or 1.3% of applicants, filed for bankruptcy while awaiting a final decision about their disability appeals from 2014 through 2019;
- 109,725 individuals, or 1.2% of applicants, died before receiving a final decision about their appeal from 2008 through 2019.
Proactive measures are needed to protect the lives and finances of disabled workers, and Stop the Wait legislation is that change.
SSDI Wait Period has been Eliminated for Claimants with ALS
In December of 2020, Congress and President Trump signed into law a narrower bill entitled, “ALS Disability Insurance Access Act of 2019.” This bill amends the Social Security Act to eliminate the five-month waiting period for SSDI for people diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, this condition affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The five-month wait caused great hardship for people with ALS and their families. This disease progresses rapidly and patients often require costly care and equipment.
The 24-month Medicare wait period for people with ALS was eliminated through legislation in 2000.
This is encouraging progress. Still, many other conditions have aggressive onset or impairments that aren’t fatal by themselves but as multiple conditions can become so—there is little logic for allowing waiting periods where delay can result in death before benefit eligibility begins.
Stop the Wait and COVID-19
The coronavirus has raised unique challenges for people with disabilities. Working people have been disabled by the virus and are unable to return to their jobs. Access to quality healthcare is critical in slowing the spread of and recovering from the impact of COVID-19.
For many long-haulers who can no longer work due to COVID, Social Security disability benefits will be a key monetary resource. By ending needless delays to receiving funds, the Stop the Wait Act can surely help people continue their access to good healthcare as well as a safe and secure environment.
Questions? Please get in touch.
Give us a call if you have any questions about Social Security’s SSDI or SSI benefits programs.
For anyone who is applying for disability, or caring for a family member who must file a claim, perhaps consider reaching out to your local congressperson and express support for this bill.