WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, introduced the Stop the Wait Act, to end the harmful “suffering periods” during which Americans with serious disabilities are denied access to Medicare.

After enduring an often long process, individuals whose eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has already been determined remain barred from any compensation for an additional five months after the onset of their disability. They must also wait 29 months—a 24-month waiting period after the start of their disability payments—to receive health insurance through Medicare.

The Stop the Wait Act directs the Social Security Administration to phase out the five-month waiting period to receive SSDI benefits and allow those who are uninsured or unable to afford health insurance to immediately receive Medicare coverage.

“The arbitrary waiting period that Americans with disabilities are forced to endure before receiving benefits and health coverage delays access to critical care for individuals who are suffering,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “We must ensure that Americans have timely access to the Social Security benefits and Medicare coverage they have earned, and this bipartisan legislation will achieve that.”

“There is no justification for these delays, which deny millions of Americans access to health care,” said Congressman Doggett. “Restrictions designed to cut costs simply shift costs onto patients when they are most vulnerable. Ending these egregious suffering periods is all the more urgent as more Americans experience Long COVID, a condition that represents the largest new entrant to the disability community in modern history.”

“For many people with disabilities, waiting years to obtain health insurance coverage can be deadly. We have to eliminate these dangerous waiting periods and ensure that workers who have paid into the Social Security Disability Insurance fund are not denied their benefits at the time they need them most,” said Senator Casey. 

This legislation is endorsed by a number of patient advocacy groups and other organizations, including: American Association of People with Disabilities, UnidosUS, The Arc, Autism Society of America, Little Lobbyists, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, United Spinal Association, The Spina Bifida Association, Epilepsy Foundation, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Protect Our Care, Social Security Works, National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives (NOSSCR), National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR), Paralyzed Veterans of America, Stop the Wait Coalition, American Association on Health and Disability, Lakeshore Foundation, Center for Medicare Advocacy, and Medicare Rights Center

“People with disabilities need timely access to affordable health care yet often must wait 5 months to receive Social Security Disability Insurance and an additional 2 years to receive Medicare benefits. This wait places people with disabilities at serious risk of not being able to access health care or being forced to choose between their housing or financial stability and health care during this waiting period. By providing health insurance to uninsured or underinsured people with disabilities in the Medicare waiting period, the bill would provide necessary healthcare to those who need it most. It would also ensure that people with disabilities can immediately access the benefits they earned without an unnecessary additional wait. The Arc is proud to support this legislation because it will help people with disabilities live longer, healthier, and more independent lives.” — Bethany Lilly, Senior Director of Income Policy, The Arc of the United States

“The Medicare Rights Center strongly supports The Stop the Wait Act. This important bill would eliminate dangerous, outdated SSDI and Medicare waiting periods that today can prevent people with disabilities from getting the help and health care they need, when they need it, or force them to deplete their resources paying for unaffordable coverage.”  – Fred Riccardi, President, The Medicare Rights Center

“NAMI praises the reintroduction of the Stop the Wait Act, which would phase out the burdensome five-month waiting period for individuals to receive SSDI benefits, allowing immediate access to Medicare coverage for those who need it the most. One in five individuals on SSDI received benefits due to a mood, psychiatric or other mental health disability. Removing these unnecessary barriers is an essential step in helping more people with mental illness get on a path to recovery. We are thankful to Rep. Doggett, Rep. Fitzpatrick and Senator Casey for their leadership in championing this vital issue.” — Hannah Wesolowski, Chief Advocacy Officer, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

“The Stop the Wait Act is a vital step to ensure people with disabilities get the care they need without arbitrary barriers that force them to wait years for Medicare coverage. It is unconscionable that the most medically vulnerable patients could be forced to go without essential care because they can’t access health coverage. We commend Rep. Doggett, Rep. Fitzpatrick, and Senator Casey for their work on this legislation and for bringing us closer toward a future where access to quality, affordable health care is a right for every American.” — Anne Shoup, Communications Director, Protect Our Care

“It’s hard enough for someone with MS to have to leave their job and navigate the Social Security Disability process. The additional financial burden of waiting for the initial payment, followed by a two year wait to get the health coverage and care they need creates stress and anxiety on top of managing an already complex condition. We believe the Stop the Wait Act can be a difference maker for people and will help reduce health disparities across the country and improve access to healthcare for the people that need it most. Thank you to Senator Casey (D-PA) and Representatives Doggett (D-TX-35) and Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) for introducing this important legislation. We look forward to working with you to moving this legislation forward.” — Bari Talente, Executive Vice President of Advocacy and Healthcare Access at the National MS Society

“Arbitrary waiting periods present an extreme hardship for vulnerable beneficiaries who simply can’t afford to wait months or years for access to the disability payments and Medicare coverage they urgently need. The Stop the Wait Act will ensure timely access to the benefits they have earned.” — Michael Wener, President of the National Association of Disability Representatives (NADR)