Social Security Disability Rules Changed

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance has been working on your behalf to make it easier for women with ovarian cancer to access needed Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration will now recognize that late stage ovarian cancer will automatically qualify you for disability benefits.  This change will reduce the hassle and time between filing your claim and getting the valuable benefits you deserve.  We worked hard to convince Social Security Agency of this needed change and will continue our efforts to expand this new authority.

According to the Social Security Administration, benefits are paid to people who are disabled, meaning that you cannot do work that you did before, you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition and that the disability has or will last at least one year or result in death.

The Agency maintains a list of diseases that automatically qualify a person as disabled.  In April 2008, the agency proposed changing the description of what types of ovarian cancer automatically qualify as disabled.  The proposed change removed “ovarian cancer with ruptured ovarian cancer, tumor on the serosal surface of the ovary, ascites with malignant cells, or positive peritoneal washings.”  No other changes were proposed for ovarian cancer.

The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance submitted comments that included a recommendation against the proposed change.  The change would have excluded Stage IC ovarian cancer from automatic qualification.

In October, 2009, the Social Security Agency released new rules affecting Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for people with cancer, including ovarian cancer.  The final rule includes the following types of ovarian cancer as automatically qualifying:

All tumors except germ cell tumors, with at least one of the following:
a. Tumor extension beyond the pelvis; for example, tumor implants on peritoneal, omental, or bowel surfaces.
b. Metastases to or beyond the regional lymph nodes.
c. Recurrent following initial antineoplastic therapy.

In the comments to the rule, the Social Security Agency specifically addressed the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance’s concern regarding the effects of treatment, the lasting side effects of treatment and potential for recurrence for ovarian cancer patients, even those diagnosed in Stage I.  The Agency wrote: “While we appreciate the second commenter’s concerns—and we agree that some women with the findings in the prior listing will be disabled—we did not adopt the recommendation to keep the listing, primarily because many women [Stage IC] will not be unable to work for at least 12 months. Even though they may be debilitated while they undergo treatment and for some time afterward, many of these women will have only minimal functional limitations 12 months after diagnosis. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for us to keep the prior listing, which would require us to find that all women with the listed criteria are disabled. We must evaluate these cases on an individual basis.”

Women with any stage ovarian cancer may qualify for disability, and women with Stage III or IV ovarian cancer automatically qualify based on the new rules.  For more on qualifying as disabled, please see the Social Security Administration’s web site.