Genitourinary Disorders

How to Get Disability Benefits for Kidney Disease

Jackie Jakab, Attorney
By Jackie Jakab, Attorney

If kidney disease has made it harder for you to work, it’s possible your condition qualifies for Social Security disability benefits. Qualifying for disability means access to monthly payments and free health insurance from the U.S. government. As of 2021, more than 150,000 workers have received disability checks with some form of kidney disease. But if you’re applying for disability benefits, it’s important to understand the criteria you’ll need to meet during the application process.

Is kidney disease a disability?

Yes and kidney disease can qualify you for Social Security disability benefits if you’re unable to work because of it.

However, the SSA has strict requirements to qualify for kidney disease disability. You are required to show a large amount of documentation, which means you will need to work closely with your doctor and any other medical professionals you meet with. You can also increase your odds of approval for chronic kidney disease disability by working with a disability lawyer.

How the SSA defines kidney disease

The Social Security Administration (SSA) defines kidney disease as an impairment of kidney function, where you gradually lose normal function of your kidneys. You may also see it referred to as chronic kidney disease or CKD in SSA documents. The chronic condition could be the result of a specific disorder impacting the kidneys or from complications of other illnesses, such as stroke or congestive heart failure.

Types of kidney disease that can qualify

Multiple forms of chronic kidney disease can qualify for disability benefits, including chronic glomerulonephritis, hypertensive nephropathy, diabetic nephropathy, chronic obstructive uropathy, and hereditary nephropathies.

Your CKD may also qualify under SSA guidelines if it’s a result of a kidney transplant (for up to one year), if you are undergoing dialysis treatment because of it, or if the kidney disease is a result of other health conditions.

Other diagnoses covered by Social Security disability benefits include:

  • Renal osteodystrophy
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Anasarca (massive generalized edema or swelling)
  • Fluidoverload syndrome
  • Anorexia (diminished appetite) with weight loss

Criteria for getting disability benefits with kidney disease

In order to qualify for disability benefits for kidney disease from the SSA, you must meet certain criteria. At a high level, you need to provide documentation that clearly shows a medical professional diagnosed you with CKD and that your condition is severe enough to prevent you from working or performing daily living activities on your own.

More specifically, you will need to provide clear medical documentation of any signs, symptoms, and lab findings related to your chronic kidney disease. This can include reports from your doctor exams, other medical records, and treatment plans you’ve received for CKD. If you’ve been on treatment plans, it’s also helpful if you have proof that you’ve followed those plans as directed.

The SSA may also require you to show other test results when deciding on your eligibility: 

  • Certain levels of serum creatinine (4 mg/dL or greater) or serum albumin (20 ml/min. or less), to confirm how your kidney is functioning.
  • An estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) of 20 ml/min/1.73m2 or less, as evidence of how well your kidneys are filtering.
  • A copy of your pathology report if you have had a bone or kidney biopsy. A statement from the doctor that confirms your biopsy and its results may be enough.

The formal guidelines the SSA uses for chronic kidney disease disability are complicated, but the bottom line is this: If you are unable to work because of CKD, then you can qualify for disability benefits. Because it is such a complex process, hiring an experienced disability lawyer can help you navigate the application. (Read more on how a lawyer could help your disability claim.)

Some questions to ask yourself before beginning the application process:

  • Am I able to take care of my personal tasks at home without help?
  • Are the medications I’m taking to manage kidney disease impacting my everyday activities and ability to work?
  • Do I have medical exams, labs, evaluation reports from the last 90 days?
  • Have I undergone a bone or kidney biopsy or received hemodialysis?
  • Has there been any fluid buildup or excessive weight loss recently as a result of my worsening kidney function?
  • Have I been hospitalized three or more times in the last 12 months — at least 30 days apart — either from kidney disease or other medical condition?

Ready to apply for benefits? We’ve gathered our lawyers’ best advice on how to fill out the disability benefits application.

Kidney transplants automatically qualify for disability

One area the SSA is quite clear with is kidney transplants. Once you receive a kidney transplant, the SSA considers you disabled for 12 months after the date of the transplant. You may still qualify for disability before your transplant, if your condition meets the SSA criteria mentioned above.

Once the 12 months from the transplant have passed, SSA will evaluate your progress to determine continued eligibility for disability.

My kidney disease meets the criteria. Now what?

If you think you meet the criteria, your next step is to apply for disability benefits. Apply as soon as you can. Unfortunately, the process can be long and drawn out, so the sooner you apply, the sooner you will receive potential benefits.

For help understanding whether you meet the technical requirements for disability, take our 2-minute eligibility quiz. If you meet the qualifications, we’ll reach out to learn more about your situation and connect you with an experienced disability lawyer. Our services are free of charge and you only ever have to pay a lawyer if they win your case.

The two types of Social Security disability

There are two types of disability you can apply for. Understanding which you qualify for before you apply can help limit some of the red tape you must go through.

The first type is Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) and it offers the highest disability benefits. It is typically available if you’ve worked and paid taxes at least five of the past 10 years, but are no longer able to work.

The other type of disability is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is income-based. If you haven’t worked much in the past 10 years, you can still qualify if you have little to no income.

Get our full breakdown of the differences between SSDI vs. SSI here.

How much is a disability check for kidney disease?

The average Social Security disability check for someone with kidney disease is $1,444.42.

The maximum disability payment you can get for kidney disease is $3,300 per month for SSDI and $841 per month for SSI. The amounts are set by law and are the same, no matter the condition — even if you qualify with multiple conditions meeting the criteria.

Your exact disability benefit payment depends on the number of years you worked and your work history or other income sources you have. Some people can qualify for both SSDI and SSI at the same time.

You can read our guide to how much people make on SSDI and SSI.

What if my kidney disease doesn’t meet the criteria?

It’s still possible to apply for benefits if your chronic kidney disease doesn’t meet the criteria listed above. The SSA uses these criteria to determine if you’re unable to work because of kidney disease, and you may still qualify if you show that you can’t work.

Keep in mind, only about 20% of people applying for disability win their claim with the first application. If SSA denies your initial application, you have the option to appeal the decision and argue your case in front of the judge. About half of applicants win their cases at the appeal hearing, and you’re three times more likely to win if you have a disability lawyer at that stage.

To get you started, here’s our step-by-step guide to applying for disability.

Ready to get benefits today?
Jackie Jakab, Attorney
Jackie Jakab, AttorneyJackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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