The Future of SSDI and SSI Programs
If you are disabled and cannot work to support yourself, news from our nation’s capitol can scare you. The Social Security Disability benefits trust fund is projected to become insolvent. What do we do with this information? Fix it. Why?
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Disability Insurance and SSI benefits are the sole means of support for many who cannot work for real medical reasons. This includes those with multiple sclerosis, failed back fusions, serious depressive disorders, and many more. Disability can happen to you, too, without notice. Car accidents, fall injuries, or a new devastating medical diagnosis can strip you of your job and leave you with Social Security benefits as a last resort. Private disability can pay temporarily — if you happen to have it. But Social Security benefits offset private disability payments — sometimes almost entirely. Social Security Disability Insurance is the final defense against financial collapse for those who most need it.
How would you support yourself, your spouse, or your family if you were to face years of unplanned disability? This is why the Social Security benefits programs provide a necessary foundation of security for workers of all ages and backgrounds.
If the Social Security Disability program is closing in on insolvency, how do we fix it? Three ways.
First, the funds for these programs need to be secured. You wouldn’t leave your wallet with your savings sitting out on a busy sidewalk. So why should Congress leave the trust fund sitting out in the same way? The Disability Insurance Benefits “trust fund” needs better security from the political process. Funds should actually be set apart wisely for the disability programs rather than raided and spent.
Second, Social Security programs should be fixed with substantially more outside accountability. The politics of power and position encourage bureaucratic attention-getting initiatives. For every government initiative, how will success or failure be measured? At what cost? How will successes and failures be tracked and published? Who should be associated with failures?
Secretiveness abounds in internal Social Security decision-making. This breeds failure. For example, Social Security Ruling 11-1p, which impairs claim rights, was rolled out in 2011 with no discernible input from the thousands of representatives who arguably know much more about why good claims languish. This author, for example, asked a direct question to an Appeals Council official at a recorded conference just before this ruling above came out. The upcoming ruling would have directly addressed the legal question asked. The official kept the answer secret then. Has transparent decision-making of a public agency turned into private imperialistic manuevering?
We run the government. Unless national security or privacy rights are involved, secrecy begets stupidity. Mark these words in May of 2012:
The worst operational decisions from Social Security yet to come will be from bureacrats who will change jobs to run from them.
Accountability requires each of us to stand by our decisions — whatever position we hold. Capitalism, even in government, should reward good decisions, not the positions.
Third, another way to fix the Social Security Disability Insurance and SSI programs is to make disability determinations more medically consistent. How? One abundantly clear way, based on 20 years’ legal experience, is to improve the first two state agency-level medical decisions. ALJ approval rates are so variable across the country because the state agency medical determinations follow narrower standards. Why would you filter out obvious approvals along with the weak ones? All on-the-record approvals at the hearing level reflect at least some incompetence at the state agency level.
Social Security judges aren’t the problem. Case management at the Social Security state agencies is.
Another state agency problem is tangibly shallow and generic medical evaluations. How has this happened? The Disability Determination Services avoids treating medical opinion like lawyer-laden corporations look for clever off-shore tax breaks. How? By:
(1) Hiding treating opinion requests in requests for medical records,
(2) Trumping up requirements for treatment physician examinations,
(3) Keeping treating medical examination payments artificially low, and
(4) Simply ignoring treating medical opinions with stock denial language.
Current state agency appeal “filters” do not save us money, they simply shift and increase the costs of fair adjudications to expensive hearings and deny justice to the most vulnerable of us.
Fix Social Security Disability decision-making by getting better treating medical opinion. Do you think your doctor, or a doctor behind a wall, would know your true medical limitations better? Isn’t the spector of bureaucratic medical decision-making the fundamental flaw of ObamaCare?