In Special Needs News

Man who uses a wheelchair out on a dock fishing on a sunny day.Turning 65 years old has traditionally been associated with retirement and enrollment in federal benefit programs. However, people with disabilities may already be receiving federal benefits through Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare before they turn 65.

Disabled individuals who qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may wonder what happens to their disability benefits when they reach retirement age.

The short answer is that their benefits don’t end, and the amount they received prior to turning 65 remains the same. But given the complexity of the federal benefits system, there may be exceptions to these general rules on a case-by-case basis that need to be discussed with a disability attorney.

Age 65 and Full Retirement Age

For most of Social Security’s history, “full retirement age,” or the age at which someone could receive the maximum amount of Social Security retirement benefits based on their work history, was 65 years old.

Reforms to Social Security in the 1980s raised the full-benefit retirement age to between 66 and 67 years old, depending on when somebody was born. For anybody born in 1960 and later, full retirement age is now 67.

When Does Social Security Disability Convert to Regular Social Security?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not permit a person to receive both disability and retirement benefits on one earnings record at the same time.

For anyone receiving SSDI payments, their monthly disability benefit automatically switches to Social Security retirement upon reaching full retirement age. Again, this is age 66 or 67 for most people.

When this switch takes place, the monthly payment amount stays the same.

How Long Do Social Security Disability Benefits Last?

SSDI lasts for as long as the recipient has a disabling condition and is unable to work, or until they reach retirement age, at which time the disability benefit converts to a retirement benefit.

Social Security performs a continuing disability review (CDR) of SSDI recipients every three to seven years.

Turning 65 or reaching full retirement age does not trigger this review. And once SSDI benefits change over to retirement benefits, there is no need for a medical review, since a recipient doesn’t have to be disabled to receive Social Security old age benefits.

SSI and Retirement Age

A person may qualify for SSI with a disability if they have little or no income and resources and are age 64 and younger, or they have little or no income or resources and are age 65 and older.

Qualifying for SSI does not require a work history the way that SSDI does. So, someone can qualify for SSI without ever having worked. But because the SSI benefit payment is not tied to a work history, SSI benefits do not convert to retirement benefits upon reaching full retirement age.

If someone’s receiving SSI for a disability, their benefits can continue after they reach retirement age as long as they still meet the program’s financial requirements.

Disabled SSI recipients are subject to a CDR at least once every three years, or every five to seven years. During the CDR, the SSA also reviews a recipient’s income and resources to ensure they are still eligible for and receiving the correct SSI benefit amount.

Disability, Medicare, and Turning 65

Medicare eligibility ordinarily begins at age 65. But people under age 65 who’ve gotten SSDI benefits for at least 24 months can start receiving Medicare.

SSDI recipients automatically get Medicaid Part A and Part B, collectively known as “Original Medicare,” after receiving their 25th month of benefits. They can choose at that time to decline or keep Part B, which covers services from doctors and other health care providers. They must typically keep Part A, the portion covering inpatient hospital care.

When individuals with qualifying disabilities turn 65 and gain age-based Medicare eligibility, they don’t have to re-enroll or complete additional paperwork to continue receiving health care benefits.

Turning 65, though, amounts to a secondary initial enrollment period. This could be a good time to re-evaluate current Medicare coverages and make changes.

For example, a disabled Medicare recipient may have declined Part B coverage when they first enrolled but decide to keep this coverage when they enroll again at age 65. They can also choose to enroll in another Medicare program, such as Part C or D.

Disability, Medicaid, and Turning 65

Medicaid is government health care for people with limited income, including those with disabilities.

In many states, SSI recipients automatically qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid eligibility that’s based on receiving SSI should not be impacted by turning 65, but there could be considerations related to special needs trust funding at age 65.

Medicaid covers some costs that Medicare does not, such as long-term care. Special needs trusts can help to preserve a beneficiary’s access to benefits like SSI and Medicaid. But the window of time to fund a first-party special needs trust closes at age 65.

Some people are also eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. They  may be able to enroll in a Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan, a type of managed care plan that helps to coordinate coverage for those with complex medical needs.

Work With a Professional

SSDI, SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid all have complex rules that may vary by state. Whether you’re turning 65 or reaching retirement age, connect with an attorney who understands the laws in your state.

Find a local special needs planner who can provide answers and assist with any necessary paperwork.

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