Social Security disability and Medicare

Melanie – New York: A friend of mind has been receiving Social Security disability benefits for many years. She is getting divorced in two months, has always received health insurance through her husband’s work, and is not enrolled in Medicare. She is 57 years of age. What does she need to do to change over her health care coverage to Medicare? Is there a special enrollment period for people in her position and is there a lag between when she enrolls and when coverage begins? This is a person who cannot be uncovered and cannot afford COBRA.

Phil Moeller: People approved for Social Security disability normally are automatically eligible for Medicare, regardless of their age. The waiting time is two to two-and-a-half years, Because she has been receiving disability benefits for so long, she already is eligible for Medicare, and should apply right away.

To avoid being uncovered, she should call Medicare and determine an effective application date that protects her. If she does face a coverage gap, she should look into the short-term continuation of her workplace coverage under COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act).

If she cannot afford COBRA, is it possible her income would be low enough to qualify for Medicaid? If so, it would help pay her Medicare premiums and possibly other health expenses. The State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free counseling; I suggest she contact a SHIP office in her state and see about Medicaid eligibility.