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Returning to Work---Post-Social Security
Feb 14, 2000

Hi. I recently returned to work after being on Social Security Disability since 1993. I attempted once before to return to work in 1996, and during that time used up my 9 Month Trial period under Social Security's rules. I have been on the new job now for a month, and have reported this to the SSA. I am awaiting their action, and assume my disability will be terminated. My question: will I be able to keep my Medicare benefits once my SSD stops, and if I become sick again down the road, is it difficult to get back on SSD a second time? My current 36-month extended eligibility period has expired, which would make it necessary to completely re-apply again. What would be my options as far as health care if I was forced to leave my job? I currently have an HMO through my employer, and Long Term Disability benefits, however there is a 12 month exclusion clause for pre-existing conditions.

Response from Ms. Franzoi

Disabled beneficiaries of Social Security are encouraged to return to work. The Work and Work Incentives Act of 1999, which was signed into law by President Clinton on 12/17/99, provides incentives for disabled individuals to return to work. The new law doesn't change how substantial gainful employment is defined by the SSA, but it does modify Social Security and Medicare benefits for disabled beneficiaries.

When an individual returns to work, Social Security benefits can continue throughout a nine-month trial work period plus an additional three-month grace period. A month in which earnings exceed $200 generally counts as a month of trial work. After the 3-month grace period, benefits are suspended if earnings are substantial, i.e., usually greater than $700 per month. Benefits can be reinstated during a 36-month extended period of eligibility for any month in which earnings do not exceed $700. Effective in 2001, this 36-month period will be increased to 60 months. While the reinstatement is being reviewed, the individual would be eligible for provisional benefits for a period of up to 6 months during the review. In the event that reinstatement is denied, the individual would not be responsible for repaying these benefits to the SSA.

Medicare beneficiaries can test their ability to work for 9 months without affecting their Medicare benefits. If the individual continues to work after that point, he can continue Medicare Part A for an additional 39 months (4 ½ years effective October 1, 2000).

This law also requires Medigap insurers to enable disabled beneficiaries to suspend premiums and benefits if they become covered under a group health plan of an employer with at least 20 employees. The law also requires that this Medigap coverage be automatically reinstated if the individual loses group coverage, as long as he notifies the Medigap insurer within 90 days of loss of coverage.

Lynn Franzoi

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