Do You Know Your Rights If You Have Cancer?

In this article...
  • Do you know your rights if you have cancer? Find out what benefits cancer patients are entitled to through Social Security and associated government programs.
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What Benefits Are Cancer Patients Entitled To?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides financial assistance to people with many different forms of medical disability. Several types of cancer are included in the SSA’s list of covered disabilities, especially if the illness or treatment causes symptoms that prevent you from working. If you get monthly SSDI payments for cancer or related conditions, you are entitled to cash assistance and possibly several state benefit programs. You may also be eligible for Medicare, even if you are under age 65, or for Medicaid on the basis of need.

How Social Security Works for People With Disabilities

One of the most widely used Social Security benefits is the SSA’s disability program. This benefit, known as SSDI, pays cash support for people whose medical or mental health conditions prevent them from working to support themselves or their dependents. The SSA lists a number of specific conditions that count toward beneficiaries’ eligibility for aid. If you have been diagnosed with any of them, you are likely to qualify for SSDI support.

Does Cancer Count as a Disability for Social Security?

The SSA lists several types of cancer in Section 13.00 of its online Blue Book. If you have any of the types of cancer listed in this section, you should automatically qualify for benefits regardless of the stage your cancer was detected in. Typically, the SSA recognizes particularly disabling and hard to treat cancers as automatic disabilities. In this category are all small-cell cancers, as well as:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Brain cancer of all types
  • Inflammatory forms of breast cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Salivary gland cancer
  • Sino-nasal cancer

Even cancers that do not appear on the SSA’s list could be counted as sufficiently disabling to merit SSDI benefits. Non-small-cell cancers that have survived more than three months of chemotherapy or spread to another organ, for example, are usually covered by SSDI. You could also qualify for what is called vocational disability, if your cancer is likely to interfere with your profession. An example of this could be a lifelong manual worker whose cancer makes it difficult to carry heavy loads or bend at the waist.

SSA Considerations

When considering an application for non-listed forms of cancer, the SSA evaluates more than the diagnosis. As part of the decision process, the SSA considers your age, physical condition, likely time your treatment will last and what your long-term prognosis is. As a rule, the longer your treatment and recovery are likely to take, the easier it generally is for the SSA to approve your claim.

How to Apply for Benefits for People with Cancer

If you and your doctor think you might be eligible for SSDI as a result of a cancer diagnosis, you can apply for benefits through your local Social Security office. Your doctor will have to fill out a form describing your condition, if it isn’t already listed in the Blue Book, and you might be called for a phone interview. The SSA sometimes takes several months to reach a decision and inform applicants of their status.

If you have been denied a claim due to lack of documentation or other procedural reasons, you are allowed to immediately reapply. If your application was rejected on its merits, you have the right to file an appeal. Though you will not be sent a check during the sometimes long appeal process, you will receive all of your backdated benefits as soon as your application is approved.