Nov 30, 2005

Retirement Age to 69 in Britain?

The United Kingdom is considering raising the retirement age under its Social Security program to as high as 69 according to a government report.

Report on Foreign Pensions

Social Security's Office of Policy has released a report entitled International Update: Recent Developments in Foreign Public and Private Pensions.

National Council on Disability Report

The National Council on Disbility has completed a report on The Social Security Administration's Efforts to Promote Employment for People with Disabilities: New Solutions for Old Problems. The report recommends:
  • Better customer service at SSA
  • Improve the Ticket to Work program by including claimants whose conditions are expected to improve
  • Better benefit planning for Social Security disability recipients who want to return to work
  • Reduce the number of work related overpayments to claimants
  • Eliminate the marriage penalty [for Disabled Adult Children beneficiaries? The report talks about a marriage penalty in SSI, however.]
  • Change the "cash cliff" to a ramp when disability recipients return to work
  • Consider rules that would allow SSI recipients to accummulate assets
  • Reduce the complexity of the rules affecting return to work
  • Make improvements in Medicare to encourage return to work
  • Allow traditional Vocational Rehabilitation to participate in Ticket to Work
  • Possibly allow Department of Labor Career Centers to receive reimbursement for helping beneficiaries under the Ticket to Work program
  • Get the Department of Education more involved in transition planning for disabled young adults who are about to leave school
  • Expand the Student Earned Income Exclusion and Program for Achieving Self Support efforts
  • Consider the possibility of changing the tax laws to add a disabled person tax credit
  • Develop an outreach program to small and mid-sized businesses to encourage more employment of the disabled.

Northrop Grumman Gets Big SSA Contract

Northrop Grumman has been awarded a contract worth up to $153 million to upgrade Social Security's computer networks over the next five years. Two other contractors, Comstor and Communication Supply, will also be involved.

Nov 29, 2005

Inspector General Report to Commissioner

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) at Social Security has recently issued the Inspector General Statement on the Social Security Administration's Major Management Challenges, a report to the Commissioner of Social Security, including the following recommendation for Social Security's disability program:
SSA needs to continue to improve the process used to determine claimant disability by focusing on initiatives that will improve the timeliness and quality of its services. For example, the Office of Hearings and Appeals’ (OHA) average processing time has increased significantly from 308 days in FY 2001 to 415 days in FY 2005. Further, the hearings pending workload for FY 2005 was 708,164 cases, whereas it was 392,387 cases in FY 2001. This represents an 80 percent increase from FY 2001. SSA’s efforts to address its pending workload did not meet the goals established for FY 2005. In FY 2005, SSA processed 519,359 hearings, approximately 99 percent of its goal of 525,000. Lastly, SSA’s productivity goal in this area for FY 2005 was to process 103 hearings per work year. In FY 2005, it processed 101.7 hearings per work year, under its goal but over the 100.2 hearings processed per work year reached in FY 2004.

Nov 28, 2005

SSA Front Line Managers Stressed

The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of SSA management personnel, has released a letter to Linda McMahon, SSA's Deputy Commissioner for Operations, giving suggestions on what SSA could do to make the jobs of SSA's front line managers less difficult. The suggestions made are perhaps less important than the description of the job circumstances faced by SSA's front line managers:
Over the past 25 years, the duties of field office management have changed dramatically. When we reduced the size of the agency in the 1980’s, the field representative, administrative aide and clerical positions were among the first to be eliminated in many field offices. As our workloads continued to grow, it became more essential to have SRs and CRs in the offices to service the public and process the work. Management at all levels, especially the OS’s and MSS’s, had to fill in the gaps, taking over many clerical and administrative activities that were previously done by other positions. We now spend large amounts of our time doing essentially non-management functions, including the following:
1. Various clerical duties including opening, closing and distributing mail and filing folders
2. Distributing and filing e-mail
3. Cleaning and maintaining the stockroom.
4. Monitoring supply, forms and pamphlet usage and ordering necessary supplies
5. Filling in and assisting in doing the work of almost all workloads in the office, including at the front end to meet productivity goals.
6. Time and attendance Posting
7. Answering telephone calls on the General Inquiry lines.

Civil Actions Statistics From JOA

Just One Analyst (JOA) has posted on the CONNECT board. As usual, what he has to say is interesting. He reveals some recent numbers on Social Security civil actions. It is a shame that SSA does not routinely publish this sort of information.

What's a Disability Claim Worth?

In a personal injury case, it is always easy for everyone involved to know what the case is worth, at least after the fact. Determining the value of a Social Security disability case is a different matter, since the claimant is awarded a stream of future cash and medical benefits of uncertain duration.

Let me try to put a rough value on an average Social Security DIB claim. The total DIB benefits paid in 2003, the most recent year for which this figure is given in SSA's Annual Statistical Supplement, was $70.9 billion. Of course, this figure includes benefits for people approved over many years. The number of people shown in the Statistical Supplement as being approved for DIB in 2003 was 777,461. Of course, those individuals will be paid benefits over many years. However, if you divide the total benefits paid in 2003 by the total number of people newly approved for DIB in 2003, you get a rough idea of the cash value of a DIB claim over the life of a beneficiary. That average figure was $91,236.73. This underestimates the value because of the inflation adjustment and because more people are going on benefits now than in prior years, meaning that the amounts paid out in the future to Social Security disability recipients will be much greater than they were in 2003, but it is still as good a rough estimate of the cash value of a DIB claim as we are likely to get.

The cash value of DIB is only part of the equation. There is also Medicare. The Medicare costs for 2003 for recipients of DIB were $19.6 billion for Part A and $16.7 billion for Part B, for a total of $36.3 billion according to CMS figures. This works out to a Medicare value per claim approved of $46,690.44. The total for both cash benefits and Medicare would be $137,927.17. An ALJ who decided 50 cases per month would be making decisions involving about $6.9 million per month or or about $83 million per year. An attorney with a modest Social Security practice might get 100 people on DIB in a year, which would be something like $13.8 million.

Nov 27, 2005

Insurance Agents Impersonating SSA Employees

The massive confusion surrounding the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit and the strong desire by insurance companies to grab as much of the market as possible as quickly as possible is leading to serious abuses. Robert Pear of the New York Times reports that there have been "complaints that some insurance agents identified themselves as working for the Social Security Administration or the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services." Insurers' Tactics in Marketing Drug Plan Draw Complaints

Nov 26, 2005

Cato is Displeased!

The Cato Institute, a conservative "think tank" (although "polemic factory" might be the more accurate term) must not have experienced much recent failure. Their unhappiness over the failure of Social Security reform, also known as privatization, apparently knows no limits. Their raw feelings of hurt are evident in this bitter, sarcastic article.

Nov 25, 2005

Ticket To Work Works?

The Ticket to Work program has such an insignificant effect upon the Social Security disability program that it's tempting to think it must be a failure. Social Security estimates in its 2006 Performance Plan that the Ticket to Work program will return only 4,360 disability benefiaries to work in FY 2006. The program is not inexpensive. Maximus Corporation administers the Ticket to Work program on a contract basis for SSA. Maximus' Ticket to Work contracts with SSA for FY 2006 total about $52 million. That is real money. However, when you work it out, the average cost for a job placement under the Ticket to Work program is only $11,697, not including SSA's direct expenses, which are probably minor. That has to be far less than the costs of even a year of cash disability benefits and Medicare. Although the number of claimants being placed is tiny and the whole program is not worth nearly the attention it has received, Ticket to Work is cost effective.

Nov 24, 2005

Disabled But Not On Benefits

Here's an SSA study that estimates that there are 4.4 million Americans who are disabled by the strict definition of the Social Security Act, but who are not on Social Security disability benefits. As would be expected about a third of these people are working at or above the SGA level and there would be others who would be technically ineligible, because they had not worked enough to meet the earnings requirement for DIB and are not poor enough for SSI. This still leaves a lot of disabled people who would be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if they would just apply and then follow through on their claims.

Nov 23, 2005

House Social Security Subcommittee Chair in Trouble?

A complaint has been filed with the House Ethics Committee against the Chair of the House Social Security Subcommittee, Jim McCrery. The complaint was filed by an outside group rather than a member of Congress and may not be taken seriously by the Ethics Committee. The problem for McCrery is that he was the recipient of large sums of money from Jack Abramoff, who is at the center of a major investigation about influence peddling, particularly in regard to Indian casinos in Louisiana. One of Abramoff's business associates has already pled guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors in hopes of getting a shortened prison sentence. There are signs that several members of Congress may be in serious legal jeopardy, although nothing is known publicly about exactly which members may be in trouble. Here's more on the current status of the Abramoff scandal.