Social Security and Medicaid Eligibility

Senior with doctor
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Americans earn Social Security retirement benefits during their working years, when money is withheld from their earnings to fund the program. These benefits entitle the laborer or her spouse to a monthly payment in retirement. Medicaid isn't something you earn. These benefits go to those who fall below their state's cutoff for income levels. It's possible to receive benefits from both programs.

Social Security Eligibility

As of 2015, you can apply for Social Security as early as 61 years, nine months old, though early retirement benefits won't start until you turn 62. Benefits are higher if you wait until full retirement, which may be anywhere from 65 to 67, depending on your year of birth. You can apply online, by phone or through your local Social Security office. Signing up for Social Security automatically signs you up for Medicare, which covers some of the cost of seniors' medical care.

Qualifying for Medicaid

Medicaid is available to low-income parents, children, seniors and people with disabilities. Eligibility for Medicaid depends on different factors, with income being a major one. According to the website, the Affordable Care Act created "a national Medicaid minimum eligibility level of 133% of the federal poverty level for nearly all Americans under age 65." Some state governments expanded the program for broader coverage. You can apply online at the Medicaid website. The website can tell you whether you qualify for Medicaid and, if not, whether you can buy a low-cost plan through the federal insurance marketplace (see Resources).

Medicaid and Social Security

Receiving Social Security doesn't prevent you getting Medicaid as long as your income falls under Medicaid's cut-off point. This may be a moot point, however, because Social Security recipients also receive Medicare. The federal government's Medicare website says that if you have Medicare and Medicaid, Medicare always pays first. Likewise, if you have an employer-provided health plan or Medigap insurance -- which covers some costs Medicare does not -- those get billed ahead of Medicaid. Medicaid only covers the part of your expenses these other sources do not.

Medicaid and SSI

Supplemental Security Income is a federal program administered by the Social Security Administration but not funded with Social Security taxes. SSI benefits go to old and disabled Americans who have a minimal income. In 32 states, if you're eligible for SSI, you automatically qualify for Medicaid. When you apply to the Social Security Administration for SSI benefits, the agency enrolls you in Medicaid at the same time. In seven states, you qualify for Medicare if you're eligible for SSI, but you apply for each program separately. These states are: •Alaska •Idaho •Kansas •Nebraska •Nevada •Oregon •Utah. The remaining states don't use SSI to qualify you, but apply their own standards instead.

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