In many ways, the fight Brian Moyer has been waging for the past 18 months to fulfill a promise to his dying wife has just begun.
“Now the pit bull is kicking into overdrive,” he said of himself Thursday morning, shortly after learning that Wyoming’s two U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would help terminally ill people get Social Security benefits faster.
“Now we’ve got to convince all of Congress,” he said. “The fight has only begun.”
On Wednesday, Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced the Expedited Disability Insurance Payments for Terminally Ill Individuals Act of 2013. The bill would decrease the waiting period for people who are terminally ill to receive Social Security Disability Insurance.
Moyer’s wife, Tina, died Jan. 23, 2012. The time between her cancer diagnosis and death was just 11 weeks — not long enough under current Social Security rules for her to receive Social Security disability payments, even though she had been approved for them. As an anti-fraud measure, current Social Security rules require claimants to wait for five months.
Tina would have received a monthly benefit of $754. But she died before the five-month waiting period ended, and Moyer received a Social Security lump sum death payment of $255.
On her death bed, she asked her husband to work to change federal law so that terminally ill patients after her could bypass the five-month rule. Moyer agreed because he believes it’s the right thing to do. They paid into Social Security all their working lives, he said. Many terminally ill people need the money. They quit their jobs because of their illnesses, he said.
Moyer calls the cause “The Good Fight.”
Moyer has written and called Wyoming’s congressional delegation, seeking a remedy to the five-month waiting rule. He started a petition online. He talked to American Indian tribes, labor unions and other groups, hoping that they could pressure Congress. The Michigan Legislature passed a resolution urging Congress to change the rule. The Moyers were originally from Michigan but lived in Rawlins when Tina died. Moyer has since moved to Jackson and to remarry. A similar measure in the Wyoming Legislature did not receive a final vote before the session adjourned this year. Moyer then said he was going to study the Americans with Disabilities Act to determine whether the U.S. Social Security Administration violated protections for the terminally ill.
On Thursday, Moyer said he was happy that the three senators took on the new bill.
He said he is willing to travel to Washington, D.C., to testify.
“If they want to do it by video conference, I’ll do it,” he said. “I have every scrap of paper from the Social Security Administration.”
After the bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, it was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance, said Laura Mengelkamp, a spokeswoman for Barrasso, in an email.
The bill states that two physicians who do not work in the same practice must diagnose a patient as terminally ill. Benefits would be phased in. During the first month, the patient would receive 50 percent of the monthly benefit. During the second month, the patient would receive 75 percent of the benefit. “From months three to 12, the individual receives 100 percent of the monthly benefits,” Mengelkamp said.
Existing law defines terminally ill people as those with life expectancies of six months or less, Mengelkamp said.
The bill states that the commissioner of the Social Security Administration would submit a yearly report to Congress that shows how many people requested benefits, how many received benefits, and how many of those people lived beyond six months and 12 months. The report also would show how much was spent and would include recommendations on preventing fraud, waste and abuse.
The current session of Congress ends Jan. 3, 2015. The bill has until then to pass, Mengelkamp said.
The bill could be amended, Mengelkamp said. “As the legislative process continues, the issues related to this bill will be reviewed and debated—changes to the bill will likely be considered,” she said.
Over the years, there have been different bills to address the five-month waiting period. None passed. During the current session of Congress, there are two bills: One introduced by Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., and another by Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Mengelkamp said.
Both of those bills are in committees, according to www.govtrack.us/.
“After practicing medicine for over 25 years, Sen. Barrasso has seen firsthand the impact a terminal illness can have on patients and their families,” Mengelkamp said.
She said Barrasso was contacted by families across Wyoming about problems with the five-month waiting period.
“He has taken a thoughtful look at the problem and believes that the bill offers a balanced solution,” she said.
Enzi also believes the bill will help the terminally ill.
“The Social Security Disability Insurance program doesn’t recognize the hardships that terminally ill individuals may face during the current five-month waiting period for benefits,” Enzi said in a statement. “Our bill would provide a solution for people facing these difficult circumstances, while helping prevent possible fraud and abuse.”