When I chose to become a lawyer after my spinal cord injury, I experienced firsthand how complicated Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and government work incentive programs truly are. Because of this experience, I strongly recommend that you should not pursue employment alone if you have a significant disability, especially if you receive Social Security benefits or use Medicaid long-term care supports like personal assistance. There is a laundry list of complicated rules and regulations that must be followed or you will get kicked out of the government programs you depend upon.
Navigating Social Security and Medicaid rules by yourself is, in many ways, more complicated than learning rocket science because at least rocket science follows logical rules. Many government programs, on the other hand, have thousands of rules with numerous gray areas. Because of this, so often when I am mentoring someone interested in working, I hear the same questions over and over again:
• If I work, will I lose Medicaid?
• If I work, will I lose my caregiving?
• If I work, will I owe an overpayment to Social Security?
These three questions consistently come up because of the unfortunate horror stories that we’ve all heard about people with significant disabilities who were not able to follow the rules. Too many of them lost their Medicaid and personal assistance, or owe Social Security lots of money for overpayments.
I have known a handful of people with significant disabilities who owed Social Security between $30,000 and $70,000 in overpayments. For years they failed to properly report their wages to the Social Security Administration and continued