Apr 28, 2015

Sad

     From Social Security:
For 4/28/15, The Social Security Administration Offices at Headquarters are dismissing early as a precautionary measure. Please remain calm and follow all traffic commands. There are no credible threats at this time. Please adhere to the following schedule for an orderly dismissal. 10:30 am WOC Building/Childcare, 11:00 am Wabash/NCC/ Security West, 11:30 am West Building/East Building, 12:00 pm Annex/ RMB, 12:30 pm Altmeyer.
     Pray for everyone's safety and for the future of the city of Baltimore.

Updated Disability Insurance Trust Fund Numbers

     Social Security's Office of Chief Actuary has released the first quarter numbers on the operation of the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. These numbers are crucial because the Chief Actuary's prediction is that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund will run out of money at the end of 2016.
    The Disability Insurance Trust Fund finished the first quarter of 2015 with $54.3 billion in U.S. government bonds. This was down $5.9 billion from the end of 2014. The Disability Insurance Trust Fund had lost $6.4 billion in the first quarter of 2014.
     There's no question that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund is doing somewhat better as time goes along. That's inevitable since the number of people drawing Social Security disability benefits is declining and the economy is growing. However, there's little doubt that the Disability Insurance Trust Fund will run out of money in the not too distant future. Because of the modest improvements in Trust Fund operations, I'd say that, absent some unexpected change, the exhaustion date is likely to be in the first half of 2017, perhaps around the end of the first quarter.
     Benefits do not stop if the Disability Insurance Trust Fund runs of money. There would still be enough income to pay at least 80% of benefits. However, it would be a chaotic situation with benefits reduced by varying amounts each month since trust fund income varies significantly from month to month. Some older beneficiaries would be shifted into retirement benefits since they're entitled to whichever is higher. That would reduce the draw down on the Disability Insurance Trust Fund but be an accounting nightmare.

Apr 27, 2015

Student Loan Debts Having Serious Effects On Social Security Recipients

     From The Hill:
A pair of Democratic senators is demanding to know more about the growing number of seniors who are seeing their Social Security benefits slashed to cover student loan debt.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Thursday, calling for a study on this growing segment of senior Americans. The percentage of households headed by people aged 65 to 74 with student loan debt quadrupled from 2004 to 2010. ...
“Garnishing Social Security benefits defeats the entire point of the program — that’s why we don’t allow banks or credit card companies to do it,” said McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, in a statement. ...
In 2014, the government withheld $161 million in Social Security payments to cover student loan debt that had fallen into default....

Apr 26, 2015

Federal Bar Association Newsletter

     The Social Security Law Section of the Federal Bar Association has released its Spring 2015 newsletter. This is the only attorney group with members in private practice as well as members employed by the Social Security Administration.

Apr 25, 2015

NADE Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of personnel involved in making initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has released its Spring 2015 Newsletter.

Apr 24, 2015

More Seemingly Plausible Ideas From House Social Security Subcommittee

     A press release from the House Social Security Subcommittee:
Today, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) introduced the Improving the Integrity of Disability Evidence Act of 2015. The bill will ensure that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses medical evidence only from reputable sources when making a disability determination.
“Hardworking American taxpayers expect that honest information is used when making disability determinations,” Chairman Johnson said. “It’s just common sense to say if you can’t participate in Medicare, Social Security can’t consider your medical evidence. Americans want, need, and deserve a fraud-free disability program.”
According to a 2013 report released by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, some claimant representatives seek out doctors who will provide medical opinions leading to a disability-benefit award without question. The report gives an example of a lawyer who sought out doctors with licensure problems to provide medical opinions to support benefit claims.
The SSA’s regulations already prohibit the agency from purchasing consultative exams from medical providers whose license has been suspended or revoked because of concerns with professional competence or conduct. However, the SSA does not have any similar restrictions on medical opinions provided by a claimant. In addition, to protect beneficiaries and federal health care programs, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is authorized to bar a provider from receiving payment from federal health care programs due to certain actions. By law, doctors who have been convicted of program-related crimes, abused patients, committed health care fraud, or have a felony related to a controlled substance cannot participate in Medicare.
This legislation would prohibit the SSA from considering medical evidence from doctors who are barred from participating in Medicare or who were assessed a civil monetary penalty for submitting false evidence by the SSA.
A similar provision was included in Chairman Johnson’s Stop Disability Fraud Act of 2014 (H.R. 5260) from the 113th Congress, and in Social Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Xavier Becerra’s recently reintroduced Social Security Fraud and Error Prevention Act of 2015 (H.R. 1419).
     Let me explain why this seemingly reasonable idea is really bad. First, anyone representing Social Security claimants who seeks out doctors with disciplinary problems to examine their clients and give medical opinions is a fool. The reports will carry little weight. If you've got any sense, it's not worth even thinking about doing. Only one example is cited. Is this enough to justify legislation? Second, and more important, what do you do about the claimant who has the misfortune of having as their treating physician someone who runs into disciplinary problems? The patient isn't the one who has done wrong. They have no way of knowing that their doctor is going to run into disciplinary problems or, for that matter, that they have already run into disciplinary problems. Honestly, do you check on this yourself before seeing a new physician? Going ahead with this proposal would cause some very sick people to be denied even though they're done nothing wrong. A physician who has fraudulently overbilled Medicaid has done something wrong and should be punished but don't punish their innocent patients.

Rising Tide Against Redistributive Government Policies?

     Is there a rising tide of opposition to redistributive government policies, such as Social Security, and is the rising inequality in income and wealth in the United States actually fueling that opposition?

Apr 23, 2015

Let Them Eat Cake!

    I see posts from one or more people on this blog saying that it's obvious that Social Security should be approving fewer disability claims since there's so many more sedentary office jobs now than there used to be. I think those who make these posts need to answer an important question. Why do people work at low wage, physically demanding jobs instead of higher paying, sedentary office jobs? To me, the answer to the question is obvious. They can't do the higher paying, sedentary office jobs! If you work in an office this may sounds nuts. Of course, anyone can work in an office. It's not that hard. Really? You may not be giving yourself enough credit. It takes at least a modest degree of intelligence as well as at least a moderate degree of social ability and mental stamina to work in an office. Not everyone has those characteristics. A high percentage of disability claims are filed by people who have the misfortune of having a borderline or low average IQ or who have chronic psychiatric problems. Those folks end up working in low paying, physically demanding jobs because they have no choice. Really, why else would anyone work in such employment if they could find an easier job that pays more? In high school, you didn't hang out with the people with low IQs or chronic psychiatric problems. They were almost invisible to you then and they still are but they exist in large numbers. It doesn't take much to disable them because they never had much to offer an employer other than a strong back and a willingness to work. The whole idea that you can take a person off the factory floor and put them in an office job is, for the most part, a "Let them eat cake" solution to disability.  And, no technological changes in manufacturing and in offices haven't helped. The technological changes have increased the cognitive demands of factory work leaving those with low IQs at a greater disadvantage.And, please, don't tell me that because infants can make iPhones do amazing things that anyone can work. That's just ridiculous.
     

Apr 22, 2015

Why Age Matters

     I keep seeing comments posted here saying, basically, that it's an outrage that Social Security pays disability benefits to people it knows can work just because they're over 50. This is based upon the fact that if a person is 50 or older, can no longer do work they've done in the past due to their medical condition and are limited to sedentary work, it may be possible to get Social Security disability benefits based upon the "grid regulations."
     The person or persons posting this miss some important points. To qualify for this treatment, you have to be unable to do any job you've done in the last 15 years and you must lack transferrable skills to sedentary work. But, it's still an outrage that Social Security pays disability benefits to people it knows can work? No, they really can't work. The Social Security Act requires the consideration of age, education and work experience in determining disability. Age has been given a prominent place in the consideration of disability because as people age they become less adaptable. When you're 25, making a transition to some entirely different type of work isn't so difficult. At age 50, it may be impossible. So, no, those people really can't work because they can't realistically make the transition to completely different lines of work. If this makes no sense to you, it's probably because you're younger. Wait a few years. If you're lucky, you'll get older and you'll have no difficulty understanding. There aren't any advances in medicine or rehabilitation or anything else that's likely to change this because it's hard-wired into the human aging process.