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Malti Patel

Q. How does Social Security decide if I am disabled?

A. Disability under Social Security for an adult is based on your inability to work because of a medical condition. To be considered disabled:

  • You must be unable to do work you did before and they decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of a medical condition.
  • Your disability must last or be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or short-term disability.

For adults, they use a five-step evaluation process to decide whether you are disabled under Social Security. The process considers any current work activity you are doing, and your medical condition and how it affects your ability to work.

Q. I am receiving Social Security disability benefits. Will my benefits be affected if I work and earn money?

A. There are special rules called "work incentives" that help you keep your cash benefits and Medicare while you test your ability to work. For example, there is a trial work period during which you can receive full benefits regardless of how much you earn, as long as you report your work activity and continue to have a disabling impairment. 

The trial work period continues until you accumulate nine months (not necessarily consecutive) in which you perform what is called "services" within a rolling 60-month period. Consider your work to be "services" if you earn more than $640 a month in 2007. For 2006, this amount was $620.  After the trial work period ends, your benefits will stop for months your earnings are at a level they consider "substantial," currently $900 in 2007. For 2006, this amount was $860. Different amounts apply to people who are disabled because of blindness.

For an additional 36 months after completing the trial work period, they can start your benefits again if your earnings fall below the "substantial" level and you continue to have a disabling impairment.

Q. I applied for disability benefits three months ago and still haven't received an answer. When should I expect to be notified of the decision?

A. The length of time it takes to receive a decision on your disability claim is from three to five months. It can vary depending on several factors, but primarily on:

  • the nature of your disability;
  • how quickly we obtain medical evidence from your doctor or other medical source;
  • whether it is necessary to send you for a medical examination in order to obtain evidence to support your claim; and
  • If your claim is randomly selected for quality assurance review of the decision.

If you have questions, call toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 or TTY 1-800-325-0778. 

Q. Is there a time limit on Social Security disability benefits?

A. No. Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. Your case will be reviewed at regular intervals to make sure you are still disabled. If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, they will automatically be converted to retirement benefits.

Q. If I go back to work, will I automatically lose my disability benefits?

A. No, the Social Security Administration has several work incentives that may help you to return to work without losing your benefits.

These questions and answers are courtesy of Malti Patel, 1607 Wood Creek Lane, Allen, Texas 75002. Patel published a book “Lifting the Mists: A simple guide to a complex welfare system for elderly immigrants and their families.” Contact Patel at to order the book.

Ramesh Parekh

As many people know, Long Term Care (LTC) cost could be high and is escalating at a high rate. Lack of a Long Term Care Insurance (LTCI) protection can wipe out all net worth of many senior citizens. Some important and basic knowledge on LTC policy:

1. Selection of insurance company:

Financial strength - It is important to select a company with good financial strength so that it may be around for a long time when your claim may arise. There are independent agencies that rate insurance companies based on their financial strength such as A.M. Best.

Experience - Select a company with long and good record of payments of claims and customer care. Such an experienced company will generally have a better knowledge in premium rate setting and claim payments.

2. The policy :

LTC policies are quite complex in terms of coverage, options, exclusions and limitation. LTCI policies vary tremendously. Here are some aspects of policy you will need to consider:

Deductible - Elimination period - Could be 20, 30, 90, 120 days or longer period during which you must pay for nursing-home care out of your own pocket. The longer the elimination period, the lower the premium.


How are long-term home care expenses covered? Will the policy pay a relative for the home care?

Does elimination period apply to home care?

Is there a waiver of premium during the care? When does the waiver clause start?

Does the policy pay less benefits for home care or assisted living facility than nursing home stays?

What are the exclusions and limitations in benefit coverage? How much coverage will you have? What will be daily/weekly/monthly and total benefit limits?

Is there an automatic inflation protection rider?

Is the inflation adjustments "simple" or "compound"?

Most states require companies to offer inflation protection. It is up to you to decide whether to buy that coverage.

You have to select the number of years for the benefit period. Insurers do offer lifetime coverage but the premiums can become unaffordable. Usually, the benefit period of 3-6 years is adequate.

3. Pricing :

Make sure that you can afford a premium without affecting your lifestyle or depleting your assets even if the premiums go up in future.

Most of the policies reserve the company's right to increase the premium in future.

Inquire about the past rate increases of the company.

Check out if there is a spousal discount for spouse/partner coverage

The decision to buy the LTC insurance is an important financial decision and lifetime commitment.

There are many experts in the field. I believe your best help will probably come from an insurance representative who specializes in long-term care insurance. A trusted insurance professional can help you in guiding through the maize of information on insurance companies, policy selections and help you determine what suits your needs the best.

For those who want to make decisions on your own, there are resources available. Shopper's Guide to Long-Term Care by National Association of Insurance Commissioners at or contact Florida Department of Insurance at

Ramesh Parekh, CPA, can be reached at (727) 461-9770 or e-mail or

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