Disability: No Health Insurance, No Medications, What To Do?

People who can't work often can't pay for medicines or doctors.

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Many people with disabilities who've been out of work for a while have some problems in common:

  • lack of money to pay for visits to the doctor or medications
  • lack of health insurance to cover doctors visits, without which a person doesn't have a recent medical history for disability purposes, and 
  • no access to prescription medications.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to any of these dilemmas which, unfortunately, affect nearly every individual who files for disability benefits. Regarding the lack of money to pay for doctors and no health insurance, possible treatment options include seeking care at a free clinic or a hospital ER. Or, if your income and assets are low enough, you may qualify for Medicaid. Some doctors will continue to see a patient if they know the claimant has filed for Medicaid, so this may be worth doing (even though the reality is that most Medicaid applications will be denied until Social Security has awarded disability benefits). See our article on how to get medical evidence for disability if you haven't seen a doctor.

Regarding the issue of no access to medications, this is probably the issue that is most problematic. The disability evaluation system pretty much requires that a disability applicant who has been prescribed medicine has to take it. For example, a judge who reviews an applicant with severe back pain, seizure disorder, asthma, or a psychiatric disorder who was prescribed medication but did not take it is unlikely to approve benefits. The fact that the applicant had no health insurance and no money to buy the medicine out-of-pocket is often irrelevant to the judge hearing the case. Does this sound fair? Of course not, but it happens all the time, even though Social Security is supposed to accept the inability to pay for medication as an acceptable reason for not taking it. The problem is that not taking medication affects credibility and makes it hard for Social Security to know whether the impairment would exist if the patient was taking medication as prescribed. (For more information, see our article on failing to comply with treatment orders.) 

For assistance paying for prescriptions as well as finding low-cost helath care clinics, you may want to visit the Partnership for Prescription Assistance website. Funded by pharmaceuitcal research companies, the site will ask you a few questions about your medications and your income and then help you apply for some of the hundreds of public and private prescription assistance programs in the U.S.

Learn more about available financial assistance in our public benefits section.

by: , J.D.

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