Asking the Real Question
“If I go to work, how much can I earn without losing my Social Security?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions received by disability benefits financial advisors. There are websites, online forums, law firms, and agencies devoted to answering this question.
Recently, as I stared at this question. I realized that this actually was not the real question most people with disabilities wanted to be answered. The real question is, “When I go to work, how will I be able to afford my disability-related expenses?”
Disability-related expenses, also known as long-term medical expenses, include things such as personal assistant services, durable medical equipment, maintenance drugs, and ongoing therapies. These are often the most important that keep people with disabilities alive, active, and engaged in our communities. These are also very expensive! Few people with significant disabilities can afford them even with 'good incomes.' The high cost of these long-term medical expenses is why healthcare insurers shy away from pre-existing conditions.
We have become so ingrained with the idea that Social Security is the gateway to financing disability-related expenses that we too often don't even look for other ways. The Veterans Administration, for example, pays disability-related expenses for veterans. In some states, the Department of Health pays for disability-related expenses for people with developmental disabilities regardless of income or assets. Private healthcare insurers often offer plans that cover disability-related expenses.
Unquestionably, Medicare/Medicaid are the most prominent financiers of disability-related expenses. Undeniably being a Social Security beneficiary is the easiest way to qualify for Medicare/Medicaid. Indeed before recently, I had dedicated my retirement to change the purpose of Social Security from being a wage replacement function to providing an offset to the high cost of disability. Changing the Social Security paradigm is extremely difficult, especially in today's environment. Expanding Medicare/Medicaid to cover long-term medical expenses is much easier to understand and to be accepted by the public and legislators. In a recent blog, Real Healthcare Reform, I explained how this expansion may be paid for and how I hope healthcare insurers may be our biggest advocates.
When we find ourselves asking the same question over and over again without getting an answer we can live with—perhaps we should ask ourselves whether that is the 'real question.' It may open new ways of looking at a problem and new opportunities to its resolution. Please let me know what you think about enabling Medicare/Medicaid to cover long-term medical expenses. How can/should we move forward?