Jun 29, 2006

Senator Baucus Promises Disability Benefits For Asbestos Exposure

In the wake of achieving a Social Security Ruling on asbestosis caused by exposure to tremolite, an uncommon form of asbestos that may have been mined only in Montana, Senator Max Baucus is promising large amounts of back Social Security disability benefits to locals suffering from the disease, as much as $40,000 to $70,000, according to the Billings Gazette.

Ticket to Work Newsletter

Maximus, the prime contractor for the Ticket to Work program, has issued its Spring/Summer 2006 Ticket To Work Newsletter.

Boxing While Disabled

The Times (London) reports that Keith Jones, fought in 100 professional boxing matches and held the Welsh Welterweight title while drawing Social Security disability benefits for asthma.

Jun 28, 2006

Bush Not Done With Social Security Reform -- Democrats Celebrate

From a speech by President Bush on June 27:

As you might recall, I addressed that issue last year, focusing on Social Security reform. I'm not through talking about the issue. I spent some time today in the Oval Office with the United States senators, and they're not through talking about the issue either. It's important for this country -- (applause) -- I know it's hard politically to address these issues. Sometimes it just seems easier for people to say, we'll deal with it later on. Now is the time for the Congress and the President to work together to reform Medicare and reform Social Security so we can leave behind a solvent balance sheet for our next generation of Americans. (Applause.)

If we can't get it done this year, I'm going to try next year. And if we can't get it done next year, I'm going to try the year after that, because it is the right thing to do. It's just so easy to say, let somebody else deal with it. Now is the time to solve the problems of Medicare and Social Security, and I want your help. I need the Manhattan Institute to continue to agitate for change and reform. You've got a big voice. You got creative thinkers, and if you don't mind, I'd like to put this on your agenda, and let you know the White House and members of the Senate and the House are anxious to deal with this issue and get it done once and for all.

Jun 27, 2006

Electronic Records Express

Posted yesterday on a Social Security website:

Electronic Records Express is an initiative by Social Security and state Disability Determination Services (DDS) to increase use of electronic options for submitting health or school records related to disability claims. An Electronic Records Express website will soon be available.

You can use electronic processes now. Contact your state DDS Professional Relations Officer to learn how.

Jun 26, 2006

Flooding in Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun reports that heavy rains have caused flooding in the Baltimore area, where Social Security's headquarters are located. There is no report of flooding at any Social Security office, but it is inevitable that central office operations will be disrupted to at least a modest degree because some employees will be unable to get to work because of damage to their homes or because of travel difficulties.

Jun 25, 2006

OIG Report on CPMS

Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has produced a report on Social Security's Case Processing and Management System (CPMS), a major part of the EDIB paperless file plan. Here is a brief summary from the report:
The CPMS management reports we tested were accurate, though ODAR managers did not always use the CPMS reports in their workload management. For instance, we found that claims were not being processed timely because the hearing offices were waiting extended periods of time for the claim folder to be sent from the FOs. Although the CPMS management reports noted the delays, hearing office managers were not taking action on these claims. Hearing office employees told us they received adequate CPMS training, and we observed that they were skilled at using CPMS to manage their workloads. However, we found that hearing office staff need training in using the appropriate codes for tracking potentially violent claimants. Moreover, CPMS does not have an electronic indicator on the scheduling sheet that would allow hearing office employees to readily identify potentially violent claimants prior to their hearing. Finally, SCTs told us they need additional training in extracting pertinent claim information from SSA’s systems related to incoming claims

Jun 24, 2006

Woman Sentenced For Social Security Fraud

Gloria Rankin of Springfield, Massachusetts has been sentenced to one year and nine months in prison for making false statements to Social Security so that she could continue to receive Social Security benefits for her children after they were removed from her custody, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's office.

Jun 23, 2006

SSI Recipients By County

Social Security has released statistics on the number of SSI recipients by county. As boring as this sounds, it is useful to attorneys who represent Social Security claimants, because it shows where the prospective clients live -- and that does not correspond as closely as one might think to the total population of an area.

Jun 22, 2006

Payments to Dead People

Social Security has had a problem over the years with paying benefits to people who have died. Great strides have been made in dealing with this problem and the number of cases of improper payments to deceased individuals has been dramatically decreased, but some problems remain. Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has recently compared the Department of Veteran's Affairs list of deceased veterans against the Social Security benefit rolls and found Social Security benefits being paid to 228 deceased veterans. Since the VA itself cannot be aware of all veterans' deaths and since most Social Security benefits recipients are not veterans, the true scope of the problem has to be quite a bit bigger.

Jun 21, 2006

SSA To Hold Leadership Symposium in Boston in December

The Social Security Administration is seeking hotel space in Boston for a "Leadership Symposium" from December 4 through December 7. It seems more than likely that this has something to do with the Disability Service Improvement plan that begins in the Boston Region on August 1. Here is an excerpt from the solicitation:

The Social Security Administration has a requirement for a hotel that can provide the necessary services for a conference to be held in Boston, MA on December 4, 2006 through December 7, 2006. Sleeping rooms are not part of this acquisition, as attendees are responsible for making their own reservations for sleeping rooms. However, the facility must be able to accommodate 175 sleeping rooms for the nights of the conference. The facility must be able to provide meeting room/ballroom space(3,400 sq. ft) to accommodate 175 participants for plenary sessions, five soundproof breakout session rooms (each 700 sq ft), and audiovisual equipment to include LCD projectors, screens, electrical cords, carts, microphone and podium, flipcharts, and flipchart paper and markers. The facility must also provide full catering services for morning and afternoon breaks, one evening reception, and two mandatory lunches.
Update -- June 22, 2006: Social Security is already changing its mind on the date for the conference. It is now listed as being either January 16-19, 2007 or January 29-February 1, 2007.

Jun 20, 2006

Issue New Social Security Cards?

Martin Gerry, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Disability and Income Security Programs, testified yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the issues and problems involved in improving Social Security card security. The fact that Gerry was testifying about an issue that is clearly not within his offical duties -- disability and SSI -- is an indication of the scope of Gerry's actual responsibilities at Social Security.

Many are calling for issuance of new Social Security cards to all Americans. Gerry detailed the considerable costs involved:

Last year, we estimated that a card with enhanced security features would cost approximately $25.00 per card, not including the start-up investments associated with the purchase of equipment needed to produce and issue this type of card. According to estimates made last year, reissuance of all new cards for the 240 million cardholders over age 14 would be approximately $9.5 billion. Since that estimate, we know that the cost of issuing SSN cards has increased by approximately $3.00 per card due to new requirements for additional verification of evidence, so we anticipate an increase in the total cost estimate when we update our figures to reflect current dollar costs.

Currently, staff of the agency devotes approximately 3,300 work years of effort to the SSN card issuance process. Last year’s estimate indicates that we would need an additional 67,000 work years to process 240 million new cards. This would require hiring approximately 34,000 new employees if we were required to complete the work within 2 years and 14,000 new employees to complete the work in 5 years. This estimate assumes replacing cards for 240 million individuals; if fewer were replaced, the cost would be lower. An approach that mandated new tamper resistant cards would be issued only during the normal course of initial issuance and reissuance would involve relatively modest additional costs. If a phased approach were mandated that limited new cards to only the approximately 30 million people who change jobs at least once during a year and the additional 5 million young people reaching age 14, the cost would be approximately $1.5 billion per year, using last years cost numbers.

Jun 19, 2006

Why Does SSA Need to Hire 90 Nurse Case Managers For Disability Service Improvement?

The Government Accountability Office Report on the Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan, delivered at last week's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing, contains the news that as part of DSI Social Security plans to hire 90 nurse case managers by the end of 2006. By contrast, Social Security plans to hire 103 Reviewing Officers by the end of 2006. The GAO report says the following about the nurse case managers:
In addition, SSA is creating a Medical and Vocational Expert System, staffed by a unit of nurse case managers who will oversee a national network of medical, psychological, and vocational experts, which are together responsible for assisting adjudicators in identifying and obtaining needed expertise.
Why does Social Security need almost as many nurse case managers as Reviewing Officers? The "national network" does not exist at this time as anything other than a hazy concept, at least insofar as the public has been informed. In Region I there may not be as many as 90 people total employed by state disability determination units as physicans and vocational experts. Why are 90 people needed to manage them?

Why would this "national network" need anyone with the title of "nurse case manager" anyway? Here is a definition of "case management" from the Commission for Case Management Certification (CCMC): which certifies nurses as case managers:
Case management is a collaborative process that assesses, plans, implements, coordinates, monitors, and evaluates the options and services required to meet the client's health and human service needs. It is characterized by advocacy, communication, and resource management and promotes quality and cost-effective interventions and outcome
The CCMC goes on to state:
Case management is an area of specialty practice within one's health and human services profession. Its underlying premise is that everyone benefits when clients reach their optimum level of wellness, self-management, and functional capability: the clients being served; their support systems; the health care delivery systems; and the various payer sources.
This does not sound like a job in which an individual merely makes sure that physicians and vocational experts are available for consultation with decisionmakers. It sounds a lot like someone who would work directly with a claimant to try to get him or her back to work. That is how nurse case managers have been used by insurance companies dealing with workers compensation and long term disability (LTD) cases. Nurse case managers in workers compensation and LTD cases often end up in an adversarial relationship with the people whose cases they are managing.

At a time when Social Security's resources are stretched to the point that the Commissioner of Social Security is threatening to furlough employees, the nurse case manager position must be an incredibly high priority to justify hiring 90 new employees. That justification is not immediately obvious. The temptation is to suspect that some controversial role for the nurse case managers is in the works.

Jun 18, 2006

SSAB Report

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has pulled together an interesting report of the status of Social Security's disability programs. It is primarily a statistical report with many interesting charts and graphic displays.

Jun 17, 2006

Social Security Employee Furloughs On The Way?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security threatened to send Social Security employees home for a week without pay if the agency receives additional budget cuts. She described the situation as "very serious." Barnhart predicted that budget cuts already approved would cause serious problems and stated that she would like to hire 100 additional Administrative Law Judges, but would be unable to hire any in the next year without additional funds.

Jun 16, 2006

A Letter To The Editor

Try calling the Social Security office in Port Richey and see how frustrated you get.

"Here's a thought. ...''

That's the lead-in to a recorded message that tells you about a Web site you can visit for general information about Social Security or to obtain forms to fill out. No claim or appeal assistance is available from this site.

When you call this number, this message plays four times with on-hold silence between and then it clicks and cuts off your call. No matter which selection you chose, the same thing happens.

Apparently, the next available person to help you is never available because after trying for 14 working days straight, eight to 10 times each day, there has been no way to get anyone to answer the phone. This is the response my friend has received while trying to obtain information regarding a Social Security disability claim appeal. The appeal was mailed return-receipt requested on May 10. There is a time limit of 60 days for filing an appeal of this nature, so time is of the essence.

Not being able to get an answer from the Port Richey office, my friend contacted the 800 phone number for Social Security to see if they could be of assistance. Their response was that nothing had been entered into the main computer files regarding this appeal and that her only recourse was to contact the Port Richey office.

My friend has subsequently learned from the Social Security office that claims are processed in the order in which they are received and that there is only one person assigned to process these claims. This person happens to be on vacation at this time, so not only are these claims being put into a pile, according to when they were received, but that pile is going unprocessed because of a vacation.

It is understood that processing these claims takes time; however, it is not understood why it should take such a long time to get them put back into the system for processing. It has already been one month since the appeal was sent.

Lives are being put on hold. Is this how the government responds to helping a disabled citizen who has no other source of income or any other source of assistance? These citizens certainly did not put the government on hold and then cut them off repeatedly when paying into Social Security for so many years and their contributions did not stop while they were on vacation.

Here's a thought: How is it that such a huge and powerful government can assign only one person to control thousands of claims and do it in a timely fashion?

Here's another thought: Someone with the authority to intercede on behalf of these poor individuals with the Social Security Administration should step up and do so on behalf of these citizens.

Gary Morrow, Hudson

Mr. Morrow does not know it, but this could and, indeed, would have happened almost anywhere in the country.

Jun 15, 2006

More From Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

Here are some excerpts from the written statements for witnesses as the House Social Security Subcommittee. Note in particular the information from GAO about the new position of nurse case manager. This may be of enormous importance and comes out of nowhere. Note also the obvious anger from the union that represents many SSA employees. SSA management may have some legitimate grievances with the union, but this rancor cannot be a good thing for SSA.

Robert Robertson, Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office:
... we found that the public and stakeholders expressed two overriding concerns regarding the replacement of the Appeals Council with the Decision Review board—that the workload of the federal courts will rise if the council is eliminated and that this change will present additional hardship for claimants. ...

While stakeholders have expressed concern that SSA will not be able to hire and sufficiently train staff in time for the new process, we found that the agency has taken a number of steps in this area. With respect to hiring for new positions, the agency has already developed position descriptions and posted hiring announcements for nurse case managers, who will work in the new Medical and Vocational Expert Unit, as well as for federal reviewing officials. To date, SSA officials have begun assessing more than 100 eligible applicants for the reviewing official slots, and expect to hire 70 by late June and another 43 in early 2007. SSA officials also said they posted announcements to hire nurse case managers, and that they expect to hire as many as 90 before the end of the rollout’s first year in the Boston region.

SSA officials also said that the agency has posted announcements to hire support staff for both the reviewing officials and nurse case managers, but the exact number SSA is seeking to hire has not been decided. Several stakeholders we spoke with were particularly concerned that SSA will need to hire or otherwise provide adequate support staff for reviewing officials to ensure their effectiveness. Specifically, several of the ALJs we interviewed told us that at the hearings level, judges and their staff currently spend significant time developing case files. They noted that if the reviewing official position is designed to focus on case development, then attorneys in this role will need support staff to help them with this time-consuming work.

With respect to training, the agency has been creating a variety of training materials for new and current staff, with plans to deliver training at different times, in different ways. SSA officials reported working on development of a uniform training package for all staff with some flexible components for more specialized needs. Specifically, about 80 percent of the package is common content for all employees, and 20 percent will be adaptable to train disability examiners, medical experts, ALJs, and others involved in the adjudication process. SSA officials said they developed the package with the federal reviewing officials in mind, but also with an eye toward a centralized training content that could apply to current and new staff down the line. SSA plans to provide the full training package, which constitutes about 8 weeks of course work and 13 modules, to reviewing officials in late June, once all attorneys for that position are hired. Among the sessions included are the basics of the disability determination process, eDib and its use, medical listings and their application, and decision writing. ...

SSA will continue to provide accuracy rates for DDS decisions, but these accuracy rates will be generated by a centralized quality assurance review, replacing the agency’s older system of regionally based quality review boards and thereby eliminating the potential differences among regional reviews that were a cause for inconsistent decisions among DDSs. ...

Witold Skwierczynski, President, National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals, American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO:
Although SSA’s workloads have increased by 12.6 percent over the last 5 years, and 2.7 percent in FY 05, Congress appropriated $300 million less for SSA than proposed in the President’s FY06 budget request. The result was a 2368 reduction in budgeted work years. While SSA’s proposed budget requests have compared favorably compared to many other agencies, AFGE is concerned that the recent budget cuts may result in dangerous levels of inadequate service to the public and stewardship of the programs under SSA’s jurisdiction. ...

In February 2006, SSA informed AFGE that the budget cuts would be absorbed in staffing resources. Since then, Commissioner Barnhart imposed a hiring reduction wherein the Agency will replace only 1 of 8 employees engaged in direct public service work in field offices who leave SSA. These are the employees who interview disability and disability appeals applicants. ...

AFGE is very concerned that such staffing cuts will drastically affect SSA’s ability to provide adequate public service to the disabled community. AFGE also raises a number of questions regarding the decisions to reduce direct service staffing. Why are such cuts necessary if SSA has the resources to implement Disability Services Improvement (DSI) which is a system that has never been tested and will cost billions of dollars to implement? If there are insufficient Claims Representatives and Technical Experts to take and process initial claims, all the DSI improvements in the world won’t improve the system. The entire system requires sufficient staffing resources on the front end to enable the public to file applications for disability benefits that fully address the nature of their condition, their medical sources and how their disability impacts their ability to work and to perform routine tasks. There is currently insufficient staff to do this job. Commissioner Barnhart’s staff replacement plan will further reduce the staff that processes disability claims. Flooding the appellate system with dollars while slicing the staff that takes applications makes no sense and is not an effective way of improving the system. ...

The record should be clarified with regards to Commissioner Barnhart’s statement that she met with the organizations that represent SSA employees. She did. She held one meeting with all 6 SSA AFGE presidents for the purpose of introducing her plan. That was 3 years ago. Ms. Barnhart was not receptive to our constructive criticisms. ...

Ms. Barnhart does not have the support or the buy-in of SSA workers. In fact, SSA employees overwhelmingly oppose this disability plan.

James Hill, President, Chapter 224, National Treasury Employees Union:
As of the end of April 2006 there were 727,629 cases pending at ODAR hearing offices. The optimal level of cases for efficient ODAR HO operations is 350,000 cases. While DSI will significantly improve the adjudication process, it will have little impact on the current backlog. In fact, if the backlog problem is not addressed it will strangle the Commissioner’s DSI initiative. Unless the backlog at ODAR hearing offices is eliminated, DSI will be no more effective in providing timely service they we are now. Fortunately, history provides the vehicle for the resolution of the backlog problem – the Senior Attorney Program begun in 1995. The solution is to use current staff to perform the adjudication needed to deal with this problem.

As discouraging as the increase of cases pending may be, it does not fully reflect the harmful effect of the backlog on the public. Average processing time at the hearing office level was approximately 270 days at the beginning of FY 2000; now it is nearly 480 days. In some locales, claimants have to wait nearly two years for a hearing. This is an unconscionably long wait for a disability decision, and it is causing untold harm to some of the most vulnerable members of society. None will dispute that the public deserves far better service than SSA is presently providing.

The backlog has risen despite system and process improvements and record ALJ productivity levels. Current initiatives have not materially affected the backlog because they fail to deal with the underlying causes of the backlog. The root causes of the hearing office backlog are the number of receipts, too few adjudicators for the size of the caseload, and an inefficient adjudicatory process.

Commissioner Barnhart at House Social Security Subcommittee

Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart is testifying today before the House Social Security Subcommittee on her Disability Service Improvement plan. There is little new in her prepared remarks. The following is a new, however:
I also established a new Office of Quality Performance to manage the Agency’s newly developed and still evolving integrated quality system which I believe will improve our disability determination process, as well as other program areas such as the Social Security retirement program and the SSI age-based program. The new Office of Quality Performance will manage a new quality system that includes both in-line and end-of-line quality review throughout the new DSI process. The Office of Quality Performance will be able quickly to identify problem areas, implement corrective actions, and identify related training as we implement the new DSI process.
The problem is that she gives no explanation of how the Office of Quality Performance is different from its predecessor, the Disability Quality Branch. Barnhart has already changed the name of Social Security's Office of Hearings and Appeals to the Office of Disability Appeals and Reviews without making any meaningful change in its operations. Without more information, it is tempting to label this change as being just as meaningless.

She goes on in her prepared remarks to say:
So far, we have developed major new computer systems to support the DSI initiative. We have performed all of the personnel and hiring work necessary to make sure that we have the new employees in their new positions, properly trained, in time to perform their new DSI duties when implementation begins. We are working to ensure that effective training is prepared and presented to every employee who will be involved with the new disability determination process. Although we do not have the same kind of personnel or hiring issues at the hearing level as we do for other levels, we do have systems needs unique to the hearing level, and we are currently working to ensure that the necessary computer systems are in place by the time the first DSI claim reaches the hearing level.
The report that the major computer systems for DSI have been developed is reassuring, but the fact that this statement is coupled with a statement that "all of the personnel and hiring work" for the Reviewing Officer (RO) position has been performed is unsettling. It is clear that all of the hiring work for the RO position has not been done since the RO jobs have only recently been advertised. It is unlikely that anyone has been hired as an RO or RO supervisor so far. Clerical positions to support the ROs have not even been announced yet. She only states that Social Security is "working" on preparing training, which suggests that Social Security has much further to go in this area.

SSA Releases "Congressional Statistics"

Social Security has released what it calls "Congressional Statistics" that show the number of Social Security benefit recipients per state and county and their average benefit.

Jun 14, 2006

Monthly Statistics Released

Social Security has released its monthly statistical package for Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act.

Jun 13, 2006

Witness List For Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

The House Social Security Subcommittee has released the witness list for the June 15 hearing on Social Security's Disability Service Improvement plan:
Panel: The Honorable Jo Anne B. Barnhart, Commissioner, Social Security Administration


Robert E. Robertson, Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office

Marty Ford, Co-Chair, Social Security Task Force, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

Sarah H. Bohr, President, National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, Atlantic Beach, Florida

James Hill, President, Chapter 224, National Treasury Employees Union, Cleveland, Ohio

The Honorable Ronald G. Bernoski, President, Association of Administrative Law Judges, Inc., Sussex, Wisconsin

Gary Flack, Chairman, Social Security Section, Federal Bar Association, Atlanta, Georgia

New Ruling

Social Security Ruling 06-02p has been published. The ruling deals with a situation in which one child has been determined to be the child of a deceased wage earner and eligible for benefits and the brother or sister of that child files a claim for benefits on the same account. If the second child can prove via DNA testing that he or she is the sibling of the child already on benefits, then the second child can also be accepted by Social Security as eligible for benefits on the same account.

Jun 12, 2006

A Small Sign

Social Security has a huge amount of work to do to make the Reviewing Official position that is the keystone of Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement plan work. There will be many, many details to attend to. One small sign of this on-going effort appeared in the Federal Register recently. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act all government agencies must submit all new forms to be filled out by the public to the Office of Management and Budget for approval and publish a notice in the Federal Register. Social Security has published a notice concerning a new form to request Reviewing Officer review. This can only be the tip of an iceberg. The vast majority of what has to be done will not require any public notice.

Jun 11, 2006

Social Security Computer Security Excellent

The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports that Social Security received an A+ grade from the House Government Reform Committee on computer security, making it the top agency in the federal government.

Jun 10, 2006

Social Security Budget News

According to the Washington Post, the House Appropriations Committee has approved an additional $184 million dollars next year for Social Security. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee has approved $38 million in supplemental funding to Social Security for the current fiscal year to deal with the costs associated with Katrina and other hurricanes in 2005. Neither bill has been finally passed, however.

Jun 9, 2006

Homelessness, Brain Damage and Social Security Disability Benefits

A Minnesota researcher has performed psychological testing on 50 homeless people and found that about 20 of them were suffering from dementia or other serious brain damage. As a result many of them have qualified for Social Security disability benefits. Many of the homeless people may have been born with cognitive limitations. Drug abuse and alcoholism may have caused more brain damage. Others may have suffered brain damage as a result of assaults suffered while living on tough streets. Similar research is underway in at least two other locations.

Social Security Fraud in Buffalo

The Buffalo News reports that two individuals have pleaded guilty to Social Security fraud. One of the two had failed to report her mother's death and had pocketed the checks that kept coming. In in the other case, the defendant had failed to report his absence from the U.S.

Jun 8, 2006

House Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

The Social Security Subcommittee of the House of Representatives has scheduled a hearing for June 15 on the Disability Service Improvement project at Social Security. The hearing notice includes discouraging data about Social Security workloads and backlogs:
The DI and SSI applications to Federally-funded State Disability Determination Service agencies for a decision have increased 22 percent over the past five years, from 2.1 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2000 to 2.55 million in FY 2005. Despite the increased workloads, the SSA has increased its productivity by 12.6 percent since 2001. However, the rapid rise in applications, coupled with budgetary constraints, have resulted in longer processing times for cases heard by Administrative Law Judges– from 415 days in FY 2005 to 477 days in April 2006. The number of hearing requests waiting for a decision has increased from about 708,000 in FY 2005 to 727,629 in April 2006, and the Agency expects this number to rise to 767,000 in FY 2007.

NADE Newsletter

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an association of employees of state disability determination agercies, has issued its Spring 2006 newsletter. The newsletter contains an interesting quote from Ruby Burrell, Associate Commissioner for Disability Determination: "In each region, overall DDS replacement rate will be 3 for every 4 employees lost. In contrast, the SSA Field offices will only be able to replace at a 1 for 3 rate while some of the other components within SSA will replace at a rate of 1 for every 5 employees lost." Burrell went on to state that Social Security's goal is to hold the backlog at the initial level to where it is at the moment, rather than to make any improvement. Merely holding the current level will be difficult with ongoing staff cuts at the same time as the workload is increasing. Burrell also stated that Social Security's goal is to have all states "independence day" certified by the end of calendar year 2006. "Independence day" means that the state agency is able to process all cases using Social Security's paperless EDIB system.

Jun 7, 2006

Serious Social Security Payment Problems Due To Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit

From the Tampa Tribune:
More than half a million Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in health plans or prescription drug plans are receiving the wrong payments each month from Social Security, say officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington.

About 16,000 beneficiaries clustered in three states - Nevada, Florida and Texas - have been shortchanged because Social Security computers deduct Medicare premiums they do not owe. Most are out more than $500, and many are owed more than $1,000.

But the vast majority, about a half-million beneficiaries, has the opposite problem: They were overpaid because their premiums were not deducted from their Social Security payments as they requested.

Now, those beneficiaries owe several months of premiums, often hundreds of dollars. And private insurers are faced with the ticklish task of trying to recover the money.

Senior officials of the two agencies involved - CMS and the Social Security Administration - have been meeting several times a week recently to try to resolve the issues, said Thomas Hutchinson, acting director of CMS' Medicare Plan Payment Group.

OIG Investigates Non-Attorney Withholding

Congress passed legislation recently requiring SSA to implement a program that allows non-attorney representatives of Social Security claimants to obtain withholding of fees in much the same manner as has been the case for attorneys since 1968. This is on a five year trial basis and began last summer. Non-attorney representatives who want to qualify must pass a test and meet other requirements. Social Security's Office of Inspector General has issued a relatively brief report on this trial program. The report contains only mild criticism of SSA and does not address some of the larger questions that have been raised about the program, such as whether the test is adequate or whether other provisions, such as the requirement of liability insurance, have been properly addressed. The issue on liability insurance is whether the insurance that many non-attorney representatives have obtained would actually reimburse for errors and omissions committed by the non-attorney representative or whether the insurance would only pay for something such as a situation in which a client suffered a physical injury in the attorney's office due to negligence, such as slipping on a wet floor.

McCrery Wants Social Security Changes Next Year

Jim McCrery, a strong candidate to become Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans retain control of the House of Representatives and the current Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, told a group of lobbyist and reporters recently that he wanted action on Social Security reform next year. McCrery's remarks were blasted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Jun 6, 2006

Protecting Social Security Employees?

Social Security has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would allow the agency to refuse to release information about an employee's duty station or telephone number. The stated reason is to protect Social Security employees from the risk of domestic violence. However, the NPRM seems to fit into Social Security's longstanding aversion to releasing routine information such as agency telephone directories. For many years, Social Security stationery has been remarkable for not listing office addresses or telephone numbers, apart from Social Security's 800 number. It is a little hard to figure out why Social Security employees would need to fear domestic violence when they are at work. It is so difficult to get through to any individual Social Security employee on the telephone that it would be almost impossible to make harrassing telephone calls to any SSA employee. Almost all SSA offices now have security guards to protect employees on the job. If this rule becomes final, it would be impossible to obtain a list of Social Security ALJs with their duty station listed or a list of Module Managers at the Office of Central Operations. Is that really necessary to protect employees from attack?

Jun 5, 2006

Fee Payment Data Released

Social Security has released the May 2006 data on payments to attorneys and others who represent claimants before the Social Security Administration. Fee payments in May 2006 were up 3% over April 2006 and 17% over May 2005.

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Jun 4, 2006

New Effort To Protect Privacy Of Social Security Records

The Social Security Administration has recently released a revised section of its Program Operations Manual Series (POMS) dealing with protecting the privacy of Social Security records. There are already reports that attorneys representing Social Security claimants are facing new difficulties in obtaining routine information from Social Security about their clients as a result of this change.

Jun 3, 2006

Social Security Bulletin Released

The May 2006 issue of the Social Security Bulletin has been released online. The following is a summary of its contents:

Jun 2, 2006

SSI Claimants Who Work

Social Security's Office of Policy Data has issued a report on SSI disability benefits recipients who work. One lowlight of the report is that nationwide there are only 419 participants in the Program For Achieving Self-Support (PASS) program that is supposed to encourage return to work for SSI disability recipients. Social Security has made it extremely difficult to qualify a PASS plan. Here are the more positive highlights:

In December 2005, there were 336,570 SSI disabled beneficiaries who were working—5.6 percent of the total SSI disabled caseload. Included in this count were 78,205 section 1619(b) participants who do not receive an SSI payment but have special SSI recipient status for Medicaid purposes. Over four-fifths (81.9 percent) of the workers had amounts of earned income below the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level of $860 per month; 22.8 percent earned $65 or less.

Geographic Distribution

Among the states, the percentage of disabled workers varied from a low of 2.8 percent in Mississippi to a high of 18.5 percent in North Dakota. In general, the percentage of disabled workers was higher in the northern states than in the southern states.

Demographic Characteristics

The majority of these disabled workers were male (53.4 percent). Almost half (49.3 percent) had unearned income; 43.5 percent were receiving Social Security benefits. Comparable figures for all disabled recipients in December 2005 were 45.5 percent male, 38.2 percent with unearned income, and 30.6 percent receiving Social Security benefits.


Disabled workers are more likely to have certain impairments than other disabled recipients. Almost two-thirds (66.2 percent) of the workers had a mental disorder, including 41.5 percent who were diagnosed with mental retardation. By comparison, 57.7 percent of all disabled recipients were diagnosed with a mental disorder, including 21.7 percent with mental retardation.

Jun 1, 2006

Upcoming Meetings and CLE

If you know of others, please e-mail me.

OIG Report on Rep Payee Problems

A recent report of Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) indicates that there may be serious problems with benefits not being paid to claimants for extended periods of time while Social Security investigates whether a representative payee should be appointed to handle the claimants' benefits for them. The report states that:
As of September 2004, we estimate there were approximately 10,780 beneficiaries in suspended status pending the selection of a representative payee (see Appendix C). Based on a review of 539 of these beneficiaries, we estimate that approximately
• $4.6 million in benefits was improperly suspended and should have been paid directly to about 1,700 beneficiaries;
• $5.2 million in benefits payable to about 1,580 beneficiaries was not reinstated, as required, after 1 month; and
• $5.7 million in benefits was withheld from about 2,220 children under age 15 for an average of 252 days.
In addition, SSA could not locate 11 of the 539 beneficiaries who remained in suspended status pending the selection of a representative payee.

AFGE Protests Budget Cuts At SSA

Witold Skwiercznsxi, president of the National Council of Field Office Operations Locals of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a labor union that represents 28,000 Social Security employees, has issued a press release objecting to attempts to cut Social Security's operating budget.

Feedback on Tremolite

Mike Bliven of Montana disagreed with my suggestion that Social Security Ruling 06-01p on diseases associated with tremolite exposure would be of little consequence:

While I have great respect for you and your work in the field, I respectfully disagree with your blog of today’s date on SSR 06-01. I could not post a response to your blog, so I am sending you this email. While not a magic bullet, this SSR will be helpful to the Montana tremolite victims in their claims – or at least as helpful as any SSR could be. The SSA must still apply it and comply with the Regulations. I know because I represent many of these claimants. This SSR took into account input from the victims of the tremolite exposure, including Montana victims, their treating physicians and other sources, with much effort on the part of Senator Baucus and his staff who work on Social Security issues. The Commissioner’s recent “unpublicized” changes to the regulations, will not go into effect in this part of the country for years and I question how they would help these folks – with the exception of possibly speeding up part of the process by eliminating Reconsideration (which is a meaningless delay here for 87% of applicants). This SSR is in effect now and will be of immediate assistance in the consideration of the claims to those whom it applies if it is followed by Montana DDS, ALJs, and the Appeals Council (or whatever it becomes while it remains).