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Medicare’s Role for People Under Age 65 with Disabilities

(By – Juliette Cubanski, Tricia Neuman, and Anthony Damico, Kaiser Family Foundation)

Medicare was established in 1965 as the health insurance program for Americans age 65 and over; since 1973, it has also covered people under age 65 who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.1 To qualify for SSDI, people must be unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity” because of a medically-determined physical or mental impairment expected to last at least 12 months or until death. Medicare also covers certain widows and widowers under age 65 with disabilities, as well as disabled adult children of retired, deceased, or disabled workers. Today, Medicare covers 9.1 million people with disabilities who are under age 65,2 or 16% of the Medicare population, up from 7% (1.7 million people with disabilities under age 65) in 1973.3 When people under age with disabilities on Medicare turn 65, their coverage from Medicare continues.4  

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