Waiting period affects 2 million disabled Americans

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Nearly 2 million disabled Americans “fall into a twilight with the first monthly Social Security disability payment, for they then must wait two years to become eligible for Medicare,” according to The Oregonian‘s Anne Saker.

With at least 15,000 in that position in Oregon, Saker tells the story of Sue Sherman, diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer, who discovered she must wait two years for Medicare to cover her. “Only 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients live more than a year past diagnosis,” Saker reports.

Saker outlines the history of the waiting period, statistics about how many people in that situation go without insurance and the machinations in Washington, D.C., over the waiting period, but weaves it all into Sherman’s story, keeping a human face on the issue.

She looks at how Sherman’s illness and lack of coverage affects her family and includes an observation by Sherman’s daughter that the costs of her care will be passed on to everyone else.

As Trudy Lieberman says in her blog at CJR.org, “Her plight illustrates the traps that snare the disabled in every state.” Lieberman explains how people get caught in this waiting period and will be stuck with another waiting period with today’s launch of high-risk insurance pools.

With 2 million people affected, this is a story that should be told in every state. Lieberman wrote in 2008 about putting a human face on the proposed health reform plans. Reporters would be smart to heed that advice as they report on how the new law will be enacted.

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