From "The Editors":Nice debate. "The Editors" know little, Gary Burtless knows nothing, Professor Erkulwater presents an argument that ignores the clear evidence that disability policy during the Reagan years was an aberrational nightmare rather than a Golden Age and Judge White, who actually has good knowledge about Social Security disability, decides to use his space to promote a hopeless cause that has little to do with the subject at hand.
The 2010 budget unveiled on Thursday by the Obama administration estimates that the government can generate huge savings if it devotes more resources to eliminating fraud, abuse and waste in Medicare, Medicaid and the Social Security disability insurance program. ...
In the Social Security program alone, the White House proposes to spend $4.3 billion over five years to fight fraud associated with disability claims — a problem, officials say, that stems from lack of oversight. Federal spending on disability insurance leaped 65 percent from 2001 to 2007, “yet the number of full medical reviews, one type of review for evaluating claims for eligibility for continuing disability payments, fell from 840,000 in 2001 to 190,000 in 2007, according to the Social Security Administration,” as The Wall Street Journal reported this week.
From Jennifer L. Erkulwater, an associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond, and the author of “Disability Rights and the American Social Safety Net”:
Before we go looking for miscreants cheating the disability programs, it is important to realize that the growth in the Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance programs is perfectly understandable given bipartisan policy changes made two decades ago and current limits on what the Social Security Administration can do to ferret out fraud.Between 1984 and 1990, Congress and the S.S.A. loosened the disability requirements, especially for children and people suffering from mental disorders. The agency also agreed that it would no longer cut off recipients it thought were “no longer disabled” unless it could show that their medical condition had improved, something that is exceedingly difficult to do. As part of welfare reform in 1996, Republicans in Congress did manage to tighten disability standards somewhat.
From Gary Burtless, a former Labor Department economist who now works at the Brookings Institution:
The federal government can certainly reduce the disability rolls and the cost of the disability program by conducting more frequent and tough-minded reviews of recipients’ disability status. There will be collateral damage, however. The reviews will impose real hardship on some disabled workers whose cases are reviewed.It makes sense to conduct the reviews, but it would be sensible to focus reviews on workers with medical conditions that are most likely to improve. Resources should also be concentrated in parts of the country where statistics suggest that error rates are highest.
From Morley White, an Administrative Law Judge in Cleveland:
... I do not believe that there is as much fraud as the press and the public believe ...
I have advocated for a long time that the government needs to have its own representative in these hearings. I do not advocate making the hearings adversarial, but that government attorneys act as an ombudsman, charged with the duty of getting the pertinent facts.
Update: The Times has added two additional pieces to this "debate." One is from a disability examiner in North Carolina. His piece seems to have been edited into near complete incoherence. I am sorry for the author, because he might have had something useful to contribute. The other piece is from what I will refer to as a "disability denier," that is someone who feels that everyone can work. "Disability deniers" believe that the only reason that people are "disabled" is because of societal discrimination. With enough government funds, especially funds given to people like the "disability deniers", almost everyone on Social Security could be returned to productive employment. "Disability deniers" seem to believe that almost everyone who is disabled is in a wheelchair. Hey, a wheelchair is used as a symbol for disability, isn't it? Yes, I exaggerate the man's position, but not by much. The "disability deniers" are responsible for the Ticket to Work fiasco. Of course, their position would be that Ticket to Work failed because it was not given an adequate test, that more money for research is desperately needed. Baloney. The credulous usually believe that the "disability deniers" are important experts. I would really like to sit some of these "disability deniers" down with a roomful of Social Security disability recipients so that they could hear about the effects of chronic pain, chronic fatigue and chronic mental instability on ability to work. They might learn that people in wheelchairs are only a small fraction of the disabled population and that issues affecting them have little to do with the lives of most disabled people.