A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

I have cancer. Do I qualify for disability?

Those with cancer often experience financial toxicity. This is when a patient has high medical costs not covered by insurance or less income because they cannot work full time. Financial toxicity often leads to debt and bankruptcy. If you have cancer, you may qualify for short and long term disability to help you through this financial struggle.

Is cancer a disability

Short- and long-term disability are resources available to help patients with cancer through the financial struggle.

To qualify for short or long term disability, you must not be able to work due to your disease, its treatment or side effects. Depending on the severity and course of treatment, cancer may be a qualifying condition.

“Medical social workers or our Community Resources team at Marshfield Clinic Health System can help provide you with information on short and long term disability, as well as other potential cancer-related financial assistance resources,” said Colette Zunk, case manager and social worker.

Short term disability

Your employer may provide short term disability or you may purchase your own policy. The Social Security disability program does not provide any benefits for a person with a partial disability or short term disability.

Short term disability, if provided by your employer, may provide payments if you are unable to work for short periods or until long term disability insurance starts.

You can contact your HR department or insurance company to submit claims for short term disability.

Long term disability

Social Security pays benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability.

Disease and treatment-related symptoms could cause people with cancer to be immunosuppressed, fatigued, nauseated, weakened and unable to work a full time job.

You may qualify for an immediate compassionate allowance decision that reduces waiting time for some types of cancer. For those that do not qualify right away, you may qualify later as you progress through the disease and treatments.

“For patients who are still working during cancer treatment, Cancer and Careers and Triage Cancer are excellent resources that provide information on working with cancer and through cancer treatment, determining reasonable accommodations, managing financial debt and understanding employment rights,” said Zunk.

Health insurance

If you are no longer able to work, you probably will no longer have insurance. Those on long term disability can qualify for Medicare two years after they start receiving their Social Security disability benefits. For those two years, the choices are different for each person and situation. Some may qualify for COBRA benefits or they can purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. Others may even be eligible for state benefits such as BadgerCare in Wisconsin.

Tips when applying for long term disability

With Social Security disability, you can apply directly through the telephone, online or through your local Social Security office or you can work with your local Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) disability benefit specialist.

“The benefit specialists can help walk you through the entire application process and can be a great starting point for other potential services offered through the ADRC,” said Zunk.

People often ask when they will start to get an income. Most applications take 3-5 months to process. Once your application is approved, your first Social Security disability benefits will be paid for the sixth full month after your disability began. Your monthly disability benefit is based on your average lifetime earnings.

The medical social workers through Marshfield Clinic Health System or Community Resource team can help explore other potential resources or services that you may qualify for.

For questions about cancer care, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

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  1. Jun 17, 2020

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