Many people are aware that the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides cash payments for people with disabilities that prevent them from working. But another, lesser-known benefit available from the SSA is access to health insurance, in the form of Medicare or Medicaid. If you've received a notice of award from Social Security, the letter should contain a section discussing your eligibility for medical insurance.
What most people think of as "Social Security disability" is actually two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The type of program you're approved for depends on your work history and your resource amount.
Both SSDI and SSI offer health insurance—SSDI recipients can get Medicare, and SSI recipients can get Medicaid. Your Social Security award letter will let you know which you qualify for in the section labeled "Information About Medicare" or "Information About Medicaid."
Not typically—even though you qualify for health insurance, it's likely that you'll have to go through additional administrative steps before you're officially covered. And depending on the date your disability started, you might have to wait before Social Security gives you the green light to enroll.
If you were approved for SSDI benefits, your health insurance (Medicare) won't kick in until 24 months after you first became eligible to receive disability benefits. Originally intended as a cost-saving measure, this waiting period might leave a gap in your insurance if you aren't otherwise covered.
Social Security starts the clock on the waiting period according to your "date of entitlement," the date that the agency begins to owe you money. (Broadly, your entitlement date is five months after your disability onset.) Check your award letter for the month and year when your entitlement began—if it's more than two years before the date of your award notice, you won't need to go through the waiting period before you can start receiving Medicare.
Keep in mind that even though you're eligible for Medicare, you'll need to pay premiums just as you would for private health insurance. The SSA will deduct your premiums from your monthly benefit check, but if you don't want Medicare, you can opt out.
SSI recipients don't need to wait 24 months to access health insurance. In many states, an application for SSI doubles as an application for Medicaid, so if you've been awarded SSI benefits you can start getting medical insurance right away.
You might need to jump through some bureaucratic hoops to begin your Medicaid coverage, however. Because SSI and Medicaid are administered by your state's health department, each state has different procedures on enrollment. Some states have separate applications for SSI and Medicaid, so you may need to submit an additional application for Medicaid. In a handful of states, Medicaid coverage isn't guaranteed, but most people who get SSI are eligible.
To learn more about SSDI, SSI, and health insurance, you can find comprehensive information in our additional articles on health care for people with disabilities.
Updated April 4, 2023