Health and disability benefits are provided by a patchwork of federal, provincial/territorial and private programs. Rules and definitions vary. Many people with HIV must rely on AIDS service organizations and other advocates to help them navigate the system. People living with other episodic disabilities may also need to turn to condition-specific organizations for advice and support. Some of the more common concerns for people living with episodic disabilities in accessing income supports are:
- Contribution requirements: To access Canada Pension Plan disability (CPP-D) benefits, a person must have worked and contributed a set amount to CPP in four of the last six years. However, many people with HIV and other episodic disabilities have irregular work histories due to illness. In some cases they may have made significant contributions over 10 or 20 years of employment, but not enough in recent years to meet the requirement.
- Definition of disability: In terms of HIV, CPP-D often relies on CD4 cell counts and viral load to determine “disability”. These may not reflect a person’s actual strength, physical stamina, psychological well-being or the impact of treatment side effects.
- Psychological barriers: Some people find it difficult to define themselves as “disabled” and unable to work, especially when they feel well some of the time. It may feel like admitting defeat to apply for or receive benefits.
- Reassessments: There is need to continually prove or re-prove illness. The documentation required puts a burden on the person with HIV or other episodic disability and the family physician who must complete the forms.
- Drug coverage: HIV drug treatments are very expensive. Treatments for other episodic disabilities, like MS and arthritis, are also very expensive. Many provincial/territorial social assistance programs provide some form of prescription drug coverage. Many people who do not have drug coverage through employee group insurance plans have been forced to quit work and apply for social assistance in order to access the treatment they need.