Nov 20, 2015

Looks Like This Plan Didn't Work

     In an effort to make it more difficult for claimants to object to video hearings, Social Security adopted new rules on June 25, 2014 requiring claimants to object to a video hearing shortly after asking for a hearing, long before they would know whether the agency would actually want to schedule a video hearing for them. The agency expected this would increase video hearings from 28% to 30% of their cases. See the table below from Social Security's Financial Report for 2015 for what actually happened. You may have to click on the table to be able to read it.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Looks to me like the number of video hearings is up substantially since 2011. Did they meet the "goal" of 30%, no.

But the intent of the rule isn't to make it more difficult, it's to make the administration of the hearing process more efficient. If we know ahead of time that there is no objection to a video hearing, it makes scheduling that much easier.

Not everything is a conspiracy. The agency is moving toward a fully electronic, portable process in an effort to be able to process any hearing from any location. Video hearings are just part of that.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the intent of the rule is to make it more difficult to get out of a video hearing. That's why the unrepresented are disproportionately having their hearings by video which have a higher rate of denial. It's just sad that claimants actually believe that they will get a faster hearing and it will be "just like" an in person hearing, when they are not. In my area, VTC takes longer, the field office facilities are of poor quality (longer hearings and MORE supplementals), the room is too small to maneuver a wheelchair (let alone a stretcher in case someone has a heart attack or a seizure!) Lighting is atrocious. If a client comes to me after they have already applied for hearing, drank the Kool-Aid and failed to timely object to VTC, the case is automatically transferred to an NHC with a 25% pay rate. I am finally seeing rep's get on this issue earlier, resist more. I think that VTC is at its peak and will the rates will go down next year. Basically, VTC in the future may only be replacing "rocket-docket" as a way to clear unrepped cases.

Dan Smith said...

Personally, I've noticed very few differences between VTC and live hearings. I also wonder whether any negligible difference in pay rates is simply self fulfilling prophecy. Unrepresented claimants automatically have lower pay rates, and are more likely to attend VTC's. Chicken or egg, you tell me. More importantly, I find it incredibly disingenuous to both complain about the hearing backlog and also obstruct the only practical solution the administration has attempted to implement.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dan. You're right, the statistics for denials from video hearings probably could have been predicted. Yes, the unrepped are less likely to object because they either don't know or are worried about the consequence of such an objection. Additionally, many of the unrepped attempt to find an attorney, only to be turned away because there claim is lacking merit. This leads to the inevitable higher rate of denial. Additionally, as you note, the practical matter is that the video hearing (using our current technology) is VERY similar to the in-person hearing and is a good part of the program to help reduce wait times.

Johnny Cash said...

I see that Dan and 1:11 PM have drank the kool-aid. Video hearings with NHC ALJs are VERY different in that most have never laid eyes on an actual claimant. Claimant's are not people, just things, whose claims they decide and move on to the next. A vtc is like a drone strike where the pilot is hundreds or thousands of miles away and doesn't risk getting blood on their hands.

Anonymous said...

That's all a claim is in the first place. All those lists of claims...just numbers. Lists and lists of numbers (unfortunately).

The biggest problem SSA has with backlogs are the unfounded, meritless claim jamming up the system.

Johnny Cash said...

If an ALJ views a claim as just a number, they are simply a cog in a wheel and don't deserve the honor of being called a Judge. Sadly, that seems to be the type of person that SSA has been selecting recently.

Anonymous said...

Congress is not going to give SSA significantly more money than it's gotten in the last few years any time soon. Decision making and written decision quality were pretty poor for a long time, and the agency is committed to improving those, rightfully so; this improvement is slowing down ALJs and decision writers (data bears this out, btw). And there is not going to be a magical huge increase in productivity for those two groups of employees in the coming years--not from eBB, not from anything.

Considering those three unquestionable facts, increased use of video hearings is one of the only means currently available to SSA that can actually help it get through its backlog significantly more quickly.

You can cry all you want about hiring more staff, or employees working more quickly, or whatever else. But as of right now, increased use of VTC is literally the only extant, effective thing SSA has at its disposal to reduce the backlog. Fighting it while crowing about the backlog is asinine and, as Dan said, disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

"But as of right now, increased use of VTC is literally the only extant, effective thing SSA has at its disposal to reduce the backlog."

That comment is completely disingenuous. First, there has been no showing that VTC has decreased the backlog in the past. It is tool. It can cleared the unrepped cases for certain, but there has not been any qualitative study that shows the true facts, the higher appeal rates, remand rates and longer adjudications due to the many, many extra hearings required due to problems with VTC. Just getting a hearing is not the point and does little to cure the backlogs if you are putting out such a low quality product that the smart folk not longer support it.

Second, I just listened to an entire talk by Theresa Gruber about methods being put into reduce the backlog, including going right back to the things that actually worked...early screenings, senior attorney decisions, etc. Notably, she never indicated that VTC was a viable option to reduce backlog. It is not. Its not going to grow.

I used to do more than half my hearings by VTC and used teach CLE on it and had a positive attitude toward its use. In the early roll out years, I saw a real commitment from the agency and ALJs to try and make these hearings as much like an in-person hearing as possible. Remember the days when a doctor used to be IN THE ROOM? Remember when we has reps had access to a big screen and could focus he camera? But any commitment toward quality VTC has dissipated. Many, many ALJs (the ones who care about quality) will not participate. The ones who I now see occasionally on VTC do them as assembly line. If the ALJs are not REQUIRED to do VTC, a claimant should not be required to either. Unfortunately, claimants who were unrepped prior to getting that propaganda about how they are "just like" an in person hearing, are stuck with VTC because they did not object. ODARs play real hardball, It that objection was not back in time, then off to the NHC the case goes! While some cases work well with VTC, some do not. And no one should be consigned to be assigned to the NHC with the lowest payrate in the USA without options for full and fail hearing. NOW, due to the 30 day rule, I must opt all claimants out of VTC. If there were a better window and more flexibility, then I might reconsider.

Anonymous said...

Ok fine, we'll just stop the video hearings. There will be a huge backlog either way. At least the whining about videos will stop.

Anonymous said...

The agency pushes numbers...people take time, numbers are just numbers. SS says they want "quality" but all they really care about is numbers. It's a sad reality.

Anonymous said...

Since we now know that approvals are lower in video hearings, and there is no difference in wait time, claimants will definitely opt out of video hearings.

Anonymous said...

Is there proof that there is a lower approval rating in video hearings? I would like to see the numbers. I do know that a ALJ who does all video hearings at my local office has a 31% approval rating for our office, and a 51% approval rating for her home office. Of course, probably the video hearings she has done are with unrepresented claimants which could make the difference.

I have done two video hearings, and while both resulted in fully favorable decisions, I will avoid them in the future because I do have concerns that the ALJ does not get the full extent of my client's disabilities when they are across the country.

As for it taking less time to get a video hearing, my experience is the opposite. I turned in two Requests for hearing the same week in December 2013. I had the live hearing in February 2015, I had the video hearing in May 2015.