Posts Tagged With: Disability insurance

Appeal Denial Of Disability Benefits Until You Get Approved

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of them used by the United States National Park Service. A package containing those three and all NPS symbols is available at the Open Icon Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a federal entitlement created in 1956 as an insurance plan for long-tenured workers with the misfortune of becoming disabled before retirement. Today, the program has ballooned into a $135 billion behemoth threatening to collapse under its own weight. Left unchecked, decades of loose standards and poor enforcement may cause a collapse of the system that would culminate in thousands — if not millions — of deserving recipients being deprived their rightful benefit.

Federal disability insurance began from humble beginnings, but unfortunately, over time, has grown dramatically, and today the fastest-rising cost for Social Security is not retiring baby boomers, but skyrocketing disability insurance benefits. In 1970, the disability insurance program was financed with a payroll-tax rate of only 0.8 percent of wages. Today, the cost of SSDI has tripled relative to the 1970 level with disability benefits now making up 18 percent of all Social Security costs. This is a marked difference from 10 percent in 1990. The number of people on SSDI in 2012 exceeded the entire population of New York City at more than 8.7 million participants.

The biggest contributing factor has been the ease with which benefits can be obtained. While it is tempting to blame the aching knees and backs of an aging population, the truth is that American workers are healthier and fitter today than they were when SSDI was in better fiscal shape. Instead, the answer is the program has grown soft around the middle for three reasons: low standards, enticing benefits and far too little control over its own screening process.

It is unfortunate that the disability insurance program has morphed from a program for permanently disabled workers with a substantial work history who were over the age of 50 to a rapidly growing program covering an increasing number of marginally disabled workers.

The screening process of approving SSDI applicants, once run by the Social Security Administration, has been foisted upon a system of appeals run by an overworked and underregulated network of administrative law judges (ALJ). In this system, a growing amount of applicants and their well-practiced lawyers have come to treat initial approval-or-denial of benefits as merely the first stop on the way to an appeal, where the odds of success are higher. Worse, these lawyers face badly orchestrated incentives that can cost taxpayers dearly.

Part of the solution for rising disability costs is to refocus benefits on the most disabled individuals, coupled with incentives for employers to keep disabled people working. In 2010, one out of every 50 working Americans applied for federal disability benefits. Furthermore, with a challenging employment market, this program has also functioned as a fallback for workers without employable skills. Only half of those who enter the disability rolls will ever return to the workforce.

The expansion of this program is troubling even in a booming economy. In a country with a nearly $17 trillion national debt the fiscal unsoundness of this program is even more alarming. The program is growing faster than the payroll-tax revenues that fund it, and the Congressional Budget Office predicts that the SSDI trust fund will be entirely depleted by 2016. At that point, barring legislation to further fund SSDI, the program will be forced to begin paying smaller benefits, or will raid another program such as Social Security’s Old Age and Survivors Insurance trust to cover the balance.

Grappling with the problems posed by a rapidly expanding SSDI system would be simpler if it were the case that the working-age population had simply gotten older and less able to earn a living. Instead, the principal drivers of SSDI growth are a loosening of eligibility requirements, increasingly attractive benefits and an application process that has become incapable of distinguishing between truly disabled workers and those who should be rejected. Together, these three factors have combined to create a modern SSDI program very different than the one envisioned by its architects. Going forward, it is essential that Congress take significant steps to rein in SSDI’s growth. Those changes will inevitably be decried as insensitive and unjust, but they are essential. To do nothing — to continue to prioritize the able-bodied over the truly infirm — is far worse.

By MacMillin Slobodien , an executive director of Our Generation, a nonprofit advocacy group, which is launching the Reform SSDI Now project.

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Social Security Administration Keeps Claimants In The Dark.

(Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue)

Social Security Administration Keeps Claimants In The Dark.

Today’s unprecedented economic crisis is bringing into sharp focus Social Security’s role as the backbone of the country’s retirement security, as well as the irresponsibility of former President George W. Bush’s policies in regard to this critical program.

Part of the Bush legacy that Astrue has continued are personnel and labor relations policies that hobble agency staff and undermine SSA’s ability to fulfill its duty to the American public. For example, Commissioner Astrue has implemented a policy prohibiting SSA employees from advising SSA claimants regarding their benefit election options. Because benefit election options, such as month of election, impact the eventual amount of benefits received, this prohibition deprives SSA claimants of advice and information that is important to their claims.

 Commissioner Astrue has also disadvantaged unrepresented claimants in disability hearings by not providing sufficient staff to explain new electronic processes to them, such as their electronic disability file, and has contributed to the disability backlog by prematurely implementing electronic processes, such as the “iclaims” program, before they have been fully developed. 

Commissioner Astrue created national hearing centers, apart from hearing offices, in circumvention of SSA’s obligations to the AALJ/IFPTE. This has resulted in one of the highest and costliest supervisory/managerial ratios in SSA. In establishing national hearing centers, where only video hearings can be conducted, Commissioner Astrue has deprived claimants of due process  by unduly encouraging them to waive in-person hearings in favor of video hearings. Commissioner Astrue has also contributed to the backlog of  disability cases by creating a work environment for SSA employees that is hostile to efficiency and effectiveness.  

 Commissioner Astrue has demonstrated a callous disregard for the Social Security Act by encouraging undue haste in making judicial decisions in disability cases and discouraging quality, thereby adversely affecting the American taxpayer because each disability case is valued at $250,000. Moreover, he has eliminated proof of age and proof of citizenship, which will likely result in an increase of fraud and beneficiary overpayments. In addition, he has reduced the processing of integrity workloads, such as redeterminations and Continuing Disability Reviews. This has resulted in billions of dollars of overpayments.

 At the core of Bush’s approach was the appointment of high-level agency officials committed to his anti-Social Security strategy.

 (AFL-CIO statement March 03, 2009)

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