St. David's HealthCare - August 18, 2023
by Katie Ozuna, LMSW, OSW-C, OPN-CG

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can bring various challenges: mentally, physically and financially. There are government programs in place to provide support to individuals facing debilitating illnesses, including two primary programs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Below are the basics to understanding these programs and the eligibility criteria involved.

Understanding SSI

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a needs-based program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It provides financial assistance to individuals who have limited income and resources, and are unable to work due to a disability such as cancer.

To qualify for SSI, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  1. Be disabled or blind (as defined by the SSA).
  2. Have limited income and resources, including bank accounts, property and other assets.
  3. Be a U.S. citizen or meet specific residency requirements.

When applying for SSI, patients will need to provide medical documentation to support their disability claim. This includes medical records, laboratory results, treatment history and any other relevant information that describes the impact of the cancer on their ability to work.

Understanding SSDI

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is another program administered by the SSA. It provides benefits to individuals who have paid Social Security taxes and are unable to work due to a disability such as cancer.

To be eligible for SSDI benefits, individuals must meet the following criteria:

  1. Have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a specified period, typically earning a certain number of work credits.
  2. Be considered disabled as per the SSA's definition.
  3. Be under the age of full retirement. 

It is important to note that there is a mandatory waiting period of five months from the onset of the disability before SSDI benefits can begin. However, after receiving SSDI benefits for 24 months, individuals become eligible for Medicare, which provides healthcare coverage.

The Application Process

Applying for SSI or SSDI can be a complex and lengthy process. Here are a few key steps to follow:

  1. Gather all your documentation, including medical records, employment history and financial information.
  2. Complete the application forms, either online or at your local Social Security office.
  3. Submit your application along with the supporting documentation.
  4. Prepare for a potential interview with a Social Security representative to discuss your case.
  5. Wait for a decision from the SSA, which may involve a denial, approval or request for additional information.
  6. Consider seeking legal assistance if your initial application is denied, as the appeals process can be challenging.

Navigating SSI and SSDI can seem overwhelming, especially for cancer patients already facing numerous challenges. Members of your oncology team, such as social workers, case managers and navigators, can help you understand these forms and support you in the application process. If you're considering applying for either SSI or SSDI, reach out to them for support. 

View a checklist of requirements for SSI and SSDI.

For more information about SSI and SSDI, please visit the below links from national non-profit, Triage Cancer:

Visit Triage Cancer’s free Financial Navigation program for more information.