Medicare is a health insurance program for Americans 65 years old and older. In some circumstances, those with disabilities may also qualify for Medicare. Generally, those who qualify for Medicare based on their disabilities will receive it automatically when they are eligible, without needing to apply.
If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, you will automatically qualify for Medicare after you have been qualified for SSDI for 24 months. This is based on the date you qualified for SSDI rather than the date you actually started receiving benefits. In the vast majority of cases, the process of proving that you are disabled and qualify for SSDI benefits takes several months from the time you qualified for benefits, which was when you first became disabled and unable to work, according to the Social Security Administration's standards.
If you receive SSDI benefits, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B when you qualify. The Social Security Administration will send you information on Medicare at that time.
If you don't receive a Medicare card and basic information after you have qualified for benefits for two years, contact your local Social Security Administration office.
If You Have ALS or End Stage Renal Disease
If you have ALS -- also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease -- or end-stage renal disease (ESRD), you qualify to receive Medicare without the typical two-year waiting period. Those with ALS qualify for Medicare as soon as they qualify for disability payments. Those with ESRD who have kidney failure or need ongoing dialysis qualify for Medicare starting three months after beginning dialysis. These benefits begin automatically when you qualify for them.
If You Have a Disability but Don't Receive SSDI
Medicare, like SSDI and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is overseen by the Social Security Administration. To qualify for Medicare based on disability, you must meet the agency's standards for disability, which include being disabled to the point that you cannot reasonably be expected to perform any work you have done in the recent past or for which you could reasonably be trained.
You must qualify for and receive Social Security disability benefits before you can receive Medicare. If your disability does not qualify you for SSDI, it doesn't qualify you for Medicare, either. You can apply for Social Security disability benefits online. It's a good idea to go through the Social Security Administration's checklist, which is also online, to make sure you have everything you will need to apply. If you are approved for Social Security disability benefits, your Medicare benefits will begin automatically when you are eligible for them. You won't need to fill out a special application for them.
You might be disabled and qualify for SSI but not SSDI; this is common for people with low income and few resources who have not worked and paid into Social Security long enough to qualify for SSDI. If that's the case, you will not qualify for Medicare, but you will likely qualify for Medicaid. Each state has its own Medicaid requirements and regulations, but most who qualify for SSI will also qualify for Medicaid.