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Parents of preemies often qualify for help from the government and private agencies. Your NICU's social worker can help you find the right program for you and help you apply (as early as possible).
SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
Social Security provides SSI disability benefits to certain infants of low birth weight, whether or not they were born prematurely. A child weighing less than 1,200 grams (about 2 pounds, 10 ounces) at birth or a child weighing between 1,200 and 2,000 grams (about 4 pounds, 6 ounces) at birth and considered small for his gestational age will generally qualify. Qualifying for this federal program also depends on your income and resources.
To get benefits, you'll have to have an interview at your local Social Security Administration office. Your NICU social worker can help you navigate this process and tell you what to bring with you to the interview. Before you begin, read the Child Disability Starter Kit on the SSA website. This SSA page will help you find other assistance.
If you qualify for SSI, you may also be able to get help from your state or county. For example, in most states, people who get SSI automatically qualify for Medicaid (see below).
This joint federal and state program administered by your state can help with health care costs, even if you have health insurance. If you are enrolled in Medicaid and have private insurance, for instance, Medicaid may cover services that your private plan does not.
Your eligibility for Medicaid will depend on family income, family size, and other factors (such as citizenship or immigration status). If you were receiving Medicaid when your baby was born, your baby will automatically be eligible for Medicaid, too. As the parent of a baby who's receiving Medicaid, you will be eligible for 60 days after the birth (or longer, if you continue to qualify).
Visit the Medicaid website to find out whether you or your child qualify for Medicaid as well as other programs offered by your state.
Another program your child may qualify for is the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CHIP provides health coverage to children in families who can't afford private health insurance but who have incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid.
For more information about Medicaid and CHIP, visit InsureKidsNow.gov.
WIC, the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, is federally funded and run by the states. It provides food, healthcare referrals, nutrition education, and breastfeeding support to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women and to infants and children up to age 5.
To qualify, you or your child needs to meet financial eligibility requirements and be deemed at nutritional risk. To find out more about how to apply, check out the WIC prescreening tool or contact your state agency. The toll-free numbers and website links for WIC state agencies are listed on the WIC website.
Ronald McDonald Houses
The Ronald McDonald Houses act as a home away from home for families so they can stay together near their hospitalized child. Families either stay at no cost or are asked to make a donation of up to $25 per day, depending on the location. (The actual cost to operate the rooms is between $50 and $100 per night.)
Some NICUs also have Ronald McDonald Family Rooms for families to rest and regroup. In some Family Rooms, you can sign up to take a nap, have a shower, or drink a fresh cup of coffee while you're only a few steps away from your baby.
Hospital-grade breast pumps
You'll likely need a good pump to get – and keep – a steady milk supply for your baby. If you participate in the WIC program or Medicaid, your state agency may cover the purchase or rental of a pump. (Hospitals sometimes rent high-quality pumps.) Your private insurance may also cover the cost of a pump.
Be sure to investigate your options as early as possible. There may be a time limit on requests for breast pump coverage (say, within so many weeks of your baby's birth), and you may need a prescription from your doctor in order to be eligible.
Save all your receipts for out-of-pocket medical expenses during your child's hospital stay. You may be able to deduct them on your taxes.
NICU social workers may be able to distribute free or discounted parking passes to parents who are spending a lot of time at the NICU, which can be a big help at hospitals with scarce or expensive parking. Be sure to ask your social worker whether there's any free or discounted parking at your hospital.