People with ALS will now be able to receive Medicare benefits immediately upon diagnosis, thanks to the passing of a recent law.
People who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) have always been able to receive Medicare coverage as soon as they begin collecting Social Security disability benefits. However, Social Security required a five-month waiting period between the time of diagnosis and the delivery of the first benefits payment. This waiting period imposed by Social Security had the indirect effect of causing a five month delay for their Medicare benefits to begin.
The recent bill eliminates the waiting period for people with ALS to access their disability benefits, which in turn makes them immediately eligible for their Medicare coverage as well.
The bill, known as the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act of 2019, was first introduced to the Senate in February of 2019 but wasn’t passed until nearly two years later, in December 2020.
On Dec. 22, 2020, the bill was signed by then-president Donald Trump and became law.
The official summary of the bill as stated on congress.gov reads:
“This bill eliminates the five-month waiting period for disability benefits under the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program for individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord). Under current law, individuals must wait five months after becoming disabled before their disability insurance benefit payments may begin.”
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and co-sponsored by 36 fellow Democrats, 29 Republicans and two independent senators. A total of 42 states were represented on the bill’s sponsorship.
Eligibility for Social Security disability benefits typically requires people to have paid Social Security taxes for a certain number of years based on their age. Those who qualify for Medicare because of a disability other than ALS must wait two years from the time they begin receiving disability benefits before their Medicare coverage will begin. The new law does not eliminate the five-month waiting period to begin receiving disability benefits for those people.
ALS is usually fatal in two to five years, with only around 10% of people who are diagnosed living for another 10 years or more.