Aug 19, 2018

SSA To Launch GitHub Site -- What's That?

     From Healthcare IT News:
The Agency for Health Research and Quality and the Social Security Administration here on Monday announced plans for kicking off challenges to identify technologies that solve specific problems.
SSA Executive Director of Health IT Jude Soundararajan said here at the White House Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference that in September SSA will launch a GitHub site with its use case for disabilities. And he said that developer contests will follow.
"We get tons of faxes, tons of unstructured data we want to analyze. Look for challenges around that and look for challenges around FHIR for our use case," Soundararajan said. "I'm looking forward to working with the developer community." ...
     Can someone explain this one to me?

Aug 17, 2018

Your Daily Conn Case News -- Squatters, File Access And Attorneys Appearing By Video

     The saga continues. From WYMT:
The saga of former disability attorney Eric C Conn continues as U.S. Marshalls began the process of seizing the property where his offices are located in Stanville.
Marshalls say they came to change the locks and to secure thousands of Conn clients medical files. Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf who represents many of those clients says more than just files were found when U.S. Marshals went inside.
"He also advised me that once he got there he encountered some squatters who apparently were living in the office," said Pillersdorf. ...
"The Department of Justice has asked Janet [Stumbo, Pillersdorf's wife, a former Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge] to put in an application to be appointed the receiver," said Pillersdorf. "They gave her keys to the office so that she could see what was in there. So she could formulate her proposal." ...
     In other Conn case news, I haven't heard anything yet from Social Security about allowing me to participate in hearings by video but others are hearing that the agency is telling Administrative Law Judges to allow this.

A Sign Of The Times

     Here's a sign that was placed outside a Social Security office in Kentucky where almost 2,000 former Eric Conn clients face the loss of their Social Security disability benefits. Appalred is the local legal services unit trying valiantly to arrange representation for these claimants. They're running short of volunteers. You can help. E-mail maryg [@] ardfky.org or call them at the number you see on the sign. Social Security is trying to run roughshod over these innocent people. Don't let them.

Aug 16, 2018

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Aretha Franklin 1942-2018

House Budget Chairman Wants To Raise Medicare Age And Make Social Security Change

     From the Times Record which may be in Fort Smith Arkansas, although that's hard to tell from the newspaper's website (emphasis added):
A new congressional budget proposal dubbed Brighter American Future would not privatize Social Security or Medicare, but it would raise the age of eligibility for Medicare up to two years and provide alternatives that could help drive Medicare costs down, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, told a group of citizens Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Fort Smith.
Womack, the 3rd District congressman from Rogers and new chairman of the House Budget Committee, addressed the concerns over Social Security and Medicare presented by Mona Harper of Fort Smith and a group of five others at the University of Arkansas  ... 
The only recommended change to Social Security the budget proposal would make is “closing a loophole with disability insurance” that “allows someone to collect unemployment,” Claire Burghoff, communications director for the House Budget Committee, wrote in an email Wednesday. ...

Anybody Want A Big Abe Lincoln Statue?

     From WKYT:
They’ve become somewhat synonymous with Eric Conn. Some of the eye-catching billboards and large statues outside of the attorney’s former office are now looking for a new home.
Conn’s is a story that’s been ongoing for years , complete with some surprising twists and turns. Months ago, Conn admitted to defrauding the social security administration out of millions of dollars. ...
A new court order entered yesterday now allows for the sale of those assets, including the property where his once booming law compound sits. The property plays home to a giant Abraham Lincoln statue, a now toppled Statue of Liberty replica and a few Conn look-alike mannequins that once topped billboards. ...

Aug 15, 2018

Attorney Advisor Program Made Permanent

     The Social Security Administration published a notice in the Federal Register today that it is making the attorney advisor program permanent. As the notice says "The attorney advisor initiative permits some attorney advisors to develop claims, including holding prehearing conferences, and, in cases in which the documentary record clearly establishes that a fully favorable decision is warranted, issue fully favorable decisions before a hearing is conducted." 
     The problem with the attorney advisor program is that they are issuing few decisions. This is because the agency has imposed many limits and restrictions on what the attorney advisors can do. If Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in November I expect that Social Security will remove some of the limitations on attorney advisor productivity.
     By the way, if they're issuing decisions, shouldn't attorney advisors be appointed by the Commissioner?

Aug 14, 2018

Social Security Obstructing Legal Representation For Eric Conn's Former Clients

     Social Security has threatened or is threatening termination of disability benefits to thousands of Eric Conn's former clients. These cases have come in two waves. We're in the second wave now. 
     The need for pro bono legal representation in the Conn cases far exceeds what can be provided locally. Attorneys all over the country have stepped up to help these sick people who were unaware of Conn's illegal behavior. In the last wave of cases, attorneys from other parts of the country appeared by video. It wasn't perfect but it did provide legal representation which couldn't have been provided otherwise.
     Cases are now being scheduled for this second wave of Conn hearings. This time attorneys are receiving the letter shown below. We're being told that "Your office was made aware of the location of the hearing when it was scheduled and is in not in the best interest of the claimant for you to appear at another location ..." I was made aware of the location of the hearing when it was scheduled but I told the people scheduling the hearing that I would need to appear by video. I was told to send in my request so I did so, expecting to have my appearance by video. The idea that allowing me to appear by video would "not be in the best interest of the claimant" is almost Orwellian. There are already so many reasons why denials by Administrative Law Judges in the Conn cases may get remanded, it's hard for me to comprehend why anyone at Social Security would think this is a good idea.

Happy Birthday, Social Security!


Slow Progress On DCPS

     From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General:
SSA is developing DCPS [Disability Case Processing System] as a common system for all DDSs [Disability Determination Services]. The Agency expects DCPS will simplify system support and maintenance, improve the speed and quality of the disability process, and reduce the overall growth rate of infrastructure costs.
SSA is using an incremental approach to develop and deploy DCPS. In December 2016, the Agency released its first working software to three DDSs, enabling them to process certain types of disability claims. Since then, the Agency has developed and implemented new releases that have provided additional functionality and has made the system available to users in 10 DDSs.
In November 2017, SSA postponed rolling DCPS out to additional DDSs and focused its resources on development. The Agency also concentrated on increasing the numbers of DCPS users at participating DDSs and cases they process in the system. ...
We asked users to respond to the statement, “Overall, I am satisfied with DCPS.” Of the 120 users who responded, 
  • 69 (58 percent ) either agreed or strongly agreed;
  • 28 (23 percent) either disagreed or strongly disagreed;
  • 17 (14 percent) neither agreed nor disagreed; and
  • 6 (5 percent) did not respond to the statement. 
In general, users liked the modern interface, DCPS’ ease of use, and their ability to work on multiple cases simultaneously. Administrators and users also indicated they would like more functionality. For example, because DCPS lacked certain functionality, users had to employ workarounds to process certain cases. In addition, users had to follow up on evidence requests outside the system. Further, users commented about their inability to effectively manage their caseload s in DCPS . ...
In December 2017, the 10 participating DDSs completed 797 cases in DCPS (about 2 percent of their workload). In May 2018, they completed 1,543 cases (about 4 percent of their workload).
SSA recognized that its inability to convince DDS users of the value and advantage of DCPS may negatively affect DDS adoption rates. To address this, the Agency planned to continue working with users to develop and demonstrate working software. ...
     A year and a half into the project and we're only up to a handful of DDS units processing 4% of their workload using DCPS? At that rate, DCPS might be fully implemented in another 50-75 years.

Aug 13, 2018

You Can Blame The Hearing Backlog On A Lot Of Things But Staffing Level Cuts Really Stand Out

     From Workload Review of the Office of Hearings Operations' Atlanta and New York Regions, a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General:
The hearing offices in both regions with high average processing times (APT) had below-average staffing levels, low morale, and issues with telework, claimant representatives, and the quality of the support staff’s work. Other factors, such as administrative law judge performance issues, difficulty scheduling expert witnesses, and a large number of supplemental hearings/postponements also contributed to high APT.
In the New York Region, local office management issues and State filing requirements were also negative factors. In the Atlanta Region, an insufficient number of decision writers and information technology problems were negative factors. In the New York Region, several interviewees cited their Regional Office as a negative factor that contributed to higher APT and lower productivity. The issues that interviewees cited included Regional Office micromanagement, excessive time and oversight devoted to minor issues, goals not agreeing with real capabilities, negative messaging/tone, and frequent changes implemented with little notice or input.

      No doubt the Inspector General's Office was trying to do a thorough report but, come on, staffing levels are the story here. Work on the other stuff too but don't expect much improvement without doing something about the staffing levels.
     By the way, don't expect any improvement in performance by those who represent Social Security claimants without an increase in the fee cap. Inflation has cut the value of fee payments at the same time the workload has been increased by burgeoning Social Security files and new regulations making new demands. You get what you pay for on, in this case, what you allow claimants to pay for. The agency can adopt all the coercive regulations it wants but things will just get worse until something is done about compensation. If you work at Social Security and think that those who represent Social Security claimants make lots of money, why don't you just leave the agency and get on that gravy train you think you see out there? Almost no one is doing that, however, which should tell you something.