A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators has introduced a bill that would end, for Social Security Disability Insurance applicants diagnosed with terminal illnesses, the current five-month waiting period before they can begin receiving their beneficiaries. Under current law, Social Security disability benefits begin in the sixth month of disability — a wait that many terminally ill patients can’t afford.

“Americans with a terminal illness shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can afford groceries or pay their utility bills,” said one of the bill’s sponsors. “This bill would ensure that those certified to have a terminal illness can receive the Social Security Disability Insurance they deserve, and the peace of mind that comes with it.”

The proposal would not actually increase the longer-term total benefits for those affected. Instead, it would shift the payment of those benefits forward by a process much like a zero-interest loan that is paid back by a slight decrease in later benefits should the patient survive.

Those who qualify for the program would begin receiving 50 percent of their projected monthly SSDI benefit in the very first month. In the second month, that would rise to 75 percent, and in the third through twelfth months, they would receive 100 percent of the projected benefit. Beginning in the second year, the cost of the early benefits would be subtracted from the benefit checks on a pro rata-basis. In year three and continuing for the remainder of the recipient’s life, he or she would receive 95 percent of the approved benefits.

To qualify, the applicant must be diagnosed with a terminal illness, which is defined as a disease with a prognosis for life expectancy of 6 months or less, and at least two independent doctors must certify that diagnosis.

This is different from the Social Security Administration’s existing Compassionate Allowances program but would hopefully work in concert with it. The Compassionate Allowances program doesn’t affect the amount or legal timing of benefits, but instead expedites certain applications through the system to keep them from being bogged down in the agency’s enormous backlog of applications. While the list of medical conditions that qualify for Compassionate Allowances is relatively limited, many terminal illnesses are included.

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