Changes to the Social Security Disability and SSI Disability system that disadvantage claimants
In a prior post, I pointed out one example of how the Social Security Administration's new initiative to reform its disability programs (title II benefits, otherwise known as social security disability and title 16 benefits, otherwise known as SSI, or supplemental security income)will actually disadvantage people with disabilities. In that article I addressed the fact that disability claimants will no longer be given the option of providing medical records up to the day of their hearing, but, rather, will now be required to submit their records five business days prior to their hearing date. Obviously, this disadvantages claimants whose medical care providers are slow in getting record requests processed (to read that prior post: Social Security Disability Claimants under attack ? )
Another facet of the "reform" measures that will be instituted in the boston region in August of 2006, however, will even more directly and distinctly disadvantage individuals who file for disability benefits.
Under the current system of evaluation, a person who is aged 50 to 54 (categorized as "closely approaching advanced age") may be approved for disability benefits if the following applies:
1. Their residual functional capacity has been rated (this is a measure of what a person is still able to do, despite their illness, and is based on an evaluation of their medical records) as sedentary, meaning the determination has been made that they are not capable of doing anything more than sedentary work.
2. Their past work involved exertional requirements that could be classified as light, medium, or heavy.
3. They have limited education (in some cases, having a high school education and in other cases having less than a high school education).
4. Their work skills are classified as either unskilled, or are classified as skilled or semi-skilled but not transferrable to other occupations.
Under the new system (that will be instituted mainly in the new england states on 8/1/06 and will be propagated to other parts of the country one year later), the age range for individuals who are "closely approaching advanced age" will be redrawn. Instead of individuals ages 50 to 54, it will now only include individuals ages 52 to 54.
Small change you say? Hardly, particularly if you are speaking to a person who has a severe medical impairment (or several impairments as is often the case), has waited as long as three years to get to a disability hearing (common knowledge among those who represent claimants with disabilities), has lost their savings and has possibly had their automobile and/or home repossessed along the way, and who would have qualified for disability benefits under the old system.
Now, the message is simply "Sorry, but you'll have to suffer an additional two years while your health declines even further and the stress of not being to support yourself pushes you even further toward total collapse, assuming that hasn't already happened. And, oh, by the way, we understand that your health insurance ran out a long time ago and you no longer have access to the kind of care that would not only treat you but also provide the medical records you need to prove your case, but, hey, those are the breaks, right?"
The changes being instituted in the social security disability and SSI disability programs seem to be especially hard on, and insensitive toward, older individuals with limited education (high school or less), whose former jobs did not pay a fortune, and whose work experience involved the kinds of skills that do not transfer to other forms of employment. Rather than improve the social security disability and SSI process, the net effect will simply be a higher rate of denial for disability claimants whose circumstances place them in this category. And, of course, a secondary outcome will be fewer federal dollars paid out in claims.
One can only hope that the administration under which these changes are being instituted may, at one point, take a step back and thoughtfully re-analyze their conclusions and subsequent decisions. Either that or be treated to a helpful dose of compassion.
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