Jan 31, 2012

Autism Spectrum May Be Narrowed In New DSM

From the New York Times:
Proposed changes in the definition of autism would sharply reduce the skyrocketing rate at which the disorder is diagnosed and might make it harder for many people who would no longer meet the criteria to get health, educational and social services, a new analysis suggests.
The definition is now being reassessed by an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association, which is completing work on the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first major revision in 17 years. The D.S.M., as the manual is known, is the standard reference for mental disorders, driving research, treatment and insurance decisions....
The proposed changes would probably exclude people with a diagnosis who were higher functioning. ...
The revisions are about 90 percent complete and will be final by December, according to Dr. David J. Kupfer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and chairman of the task force making the revisions. ...
In the new analysis, Dr. Volkmar, along with Brian Reichow and James McPartland, both at Yale, used data from a large 1993 study that served as the basis for the current criteria. They focused on 372 children and adults who were among the highest functioning and found that overall, only 45 percent of them would qualify for the proposed autism spectrum diagnosis now under review.

Living In The Sticks Isn't Good For Your Health

From the Kansas City Star:
Around this rural county seat 100 miles southeast of Kansas City, 1 out of every 8 people of working age is home collecting disability checks from the Social Security Administration.
That compares to about 1 in 20 for the Kansas City area ...
[W]here are they most apt to collect [Social Security disability benefits] ? A recent tabulation of data nationwide reveals the highest concentrations of communities subsisting on disability benefits, per capita, to be in historically poor, rural settings.
They’re often places where two-lane highways wind around wooded hills, where mining or manual farm labor once put food on the table, and access to medical care has long been limited.
Poverty begets bad health and greater rates of disability, experts say, and disabilities often lead to deeper poverty.

Reamore ere: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/28/3397747/disability-rolls-have-a-rural.html#storylink=cy

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/28/3397747/disability-rolls-have-a-rural.html#storylink=cp

Jan 30, 2012

Must File Appeals Online

     Effective on March 16, anyone representing a Social Security claimant is supposed to file reconsideration requests and requests for hearing online, according to a new directive to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow. The directive states that "We may investigate to determine if a representative purposefully violated this duty or is attempting to circumvent our rules. We may sanction a representative who does not follow these rules."
     I hope that Social Security is aware of the limitations of their own online systems. It is often impossible to file a reconsideration request or a request for hearing online. It is seldom clear what the problem is.

Jan 29, 2012

Genealogists Fight Back!

     Genealogists plan to fight back against changes in Social Security's Death Master File. The Death Master File affects many interests who otherwise care little about what goes on at Social Security.

Jan 28, 2012

Congressional Hearing Announced

     From a press release: 
U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security announced today that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the accuracy and uses of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.  The hearing will take place on Thursday, February 2, 2012 in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 9:00 a.m. ... 
As many news reports have accounted, incorrect death reports have created severe personal and financial hardship for those who are erroneously listed as deceased, including the termination of benefits and the public disclosure of information that the SSA normally keeps confidential.  According to the SSA, each year approximately 14,000 individuals are incorrectly listed as deceased on the DMF.  Those affected have experienced termination of benefits, rejected credit, declined mortgages and other devastating consequences while their personal and private information is publicly exposed.  
Further, the DMF reportedly has become a source for thieves to capitalize on the identities of children and others who have died.  Criminals appear to be exploiting the easy access to death information to submit fraudulent tax returns that include the decedent’s SSN.  Parents of the deceased child do not know their child’s identity has been stolen until the IRS rejects their legitimately filed return and the theft has been exposed.
     But if you don't use the Death Master File, you end up paying out lots of Social Security benefits to dead people. If you don't make the Death Master File available to other agencies, then other agencies have the same problem. If you don't make the Death Master File available to the public, there is the same problem with  private retirement benefits and with credit fraud not to mention that life insurers get to avoid paying off on their insureds whose survivors did not know there was a life insurance policy.
    Like a lot of government, the Death Master File sounds terribly boring but it has huge implications. for many, many people Also like a lot of government problems, probably there is no solution so we'll have to keep muddling along.

Jan 27, 2012

Patty Duke Applies For Social Security Benefits And There's More Revealed Than You Would Expect -- Unscripted Social Security Number Wistfulness, A Few Real Tears And A Major Detail That Social Security Hopes You Don't Notice

     Ms. Duke became wistful thinking about receiving a Social Security number at a very young age.At that time one received a Social Security number only when one began working.  She received her Social Security number at such a young age because she started working as an actress at a very young age. The acting itself may not have been so bad for Ms. Duke but her life around the time she received her Social Security number and for many years thereafter was grim and I'm talking PTSD-inducing grim. Bringing up those memories may have contributed to her shedding a few real tears at the end  as she finalized her claim. I doubt that Ms. Duke or Social Security anticipated that this video would have such a genuinely emotional element to it.
     Social Security would prefer that you not notice that Ms. Duke needed the help of her husband in applying for benefits online.

Jan 25, 2012

Social Security Releases Contractor Information

    Social Security has released its annual Service Contract Inventory, which shows how much was made to each of the agency's service contractors. If you go to the trouble, you can find how much was paid not only to Lockheed Martin but to each medical consultant or vocational expert. I did a quick review and came up with this list of the biggest contractors:
  • Lockheed Martin $72 million
  • Computer Sciences Corporation $34 million
  • Microtechnologies LLC $32 million
  • Northrup Grumman $31 million
  • ABT $22 million
     Note that this is a list of service contractors. It does not include hardware purchases or rent, for instance.

Jan 24, 2012

Budget Cuts Mean Staff Cuts Which Means Less Work Gets Done

Here are a couple of tables from the testimony of Steve Clifton, the President of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA) at today's Social Security Subcommitee hearing.

Just two acronyms to explain -- FY means Fiscal Year and TSC means Teleservice Center.

Hearing Backlogs To Improve?

     From the testimony of Social Security Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin at today's House Social Security Subcommittee hearing:
Due to tight budgets in fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2012, we have suspended or postponed lower priority activities so that we can continue to achieve our most important goals—eliminating the hearings backlog and focusing on program integrity work. Our available funding in FY 2012 is almost $400 million less than what we operated with in FY 2010. At the same time, our fixed costs and our workloads continued to increase. We lost over 4,000 employees in FY 2011, and we expect to lose over 3,000 more employees this year that we cannot replace. We simply do not have enough staff to complete all of the work for which we are responsible, and we made strategic decisions about the areas in which we must do less with less.

Eliminating the hearings backlog remains our top priority. With the resources we received in FY 2012, we can still achieve our commitment to reduce the average hearings processing time to 270 days by the end of FY 2013 provided we are able to hire enough administrative law judges. It will be an extraordinary accomplishment because we have faced a significant increase in hearing requests due to the economic downturn. While we cannot afford to complete the level of program integrity work authorized under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) because Congress did not appropriate the full amount, we will increase the number of program integrity reviews that we conduct by 90,000 more full medical continuing disability reviews (CDR) this year.
 I don't know what's going on in other places but the hearing backlog is certainly growing where I am. Given the hiring freeze and the elimination of contract hearing reporters, it's hard for me to see anything other than an increase in hearing backlogs nationally over the next year.

Some PEBES Mailings To Resume

    From the Associated Press:
Social Security benefits statements — which officials stopped mailing to cut costs — will again be sent out to selected age groups.
Annual statements will begin being sent again next month to people 60 and older who are not yet receiving benefits, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. One-time mailings to 25-year-old workers introducing them to the entitlement program and their potential benefits will begin being sent by the end of the year, the letter says.
     The benefit statements are officially known as Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statements (PEBES).

Burlington, NC Field Office To Close

     The Burlington, NC Social Security field office will be closing in March as a budget cutting measure. I am familiar with Burlington since it is about an hour by car from where I'm sitting. It is not losing population. Burlington and surrounding communities, such as Graham, Mebane and Elon, are all growing rapidly. This reduces service to tens of thousands of people and increases pressure on the Durham, Greensboro and Reidsville field offices.

Jan 23, 2012

65 Year Old Arrested For Threatening Social Security Employees

    From CBS Chicago:
A 65-year-old man upset with reductions to his benefits allegedly threatened to kill employees at the Social Security Administration this week.
The Department of Homeland Security took Frank Logan’s reported threats seriously enough to have local police obtain a warrant for Logan’s arrest, Joliet Cmdr. Brian Benton said.Logan has called the office in Wilkes Barre, Pa., when he was unhappy his check was reduced and became irate at the answers he received,” Benton said.  ...

Jan 22, 2012

Labor Contract Negotiations At An Impasse

     Social Security management has been in a protracted negotiation with the labor union that represents most of its employees, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), over a new contract. The AFGE website reports that the union has requested the intervention of the Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP), which is a fairly obscure federal agency. The FSIP has directed the parties to engage in intense negotiations with the help of a mediator. 
     I am not optimistic about a resolution of the matter this year. AFGE has made many bitter complaints about Commissioner Astrue. This may not be resolved until there is a new Commissioner.

Jan 21, 2012

Office Closure In Pittsburgh

One of Pittsburgh's Social Security field offices is closing.

Jan 20, 2012

Jan 19, 2012

The Rest Doesn't Matter; Just Cut People Off Benefits

     The House Social Security Subcommittee has scheduled a hearing for January 24 on minimizing "improper payments and protect taxpayers’ dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse." I think one can read this hearing as an effort to make sure that Social Security's top priority in spending its limited operating funds is cutting people off disability benefits.Maintaining routine operations appears to be of limited interest to committee Republicans.
     I don't want to imply that continuing disability reviews or fraud investigations are unimportant. They are important. The problem at the moment is that Social Security is fighting just to keep its doors open. 
      It sometimes seems to me as if the Republicans on this Subcommittee are intent on confirming my worst suspicions about them.

Jan 18, 2012

Final Rules On Medicare Prescription Drug Subsidy

     Social Security has adopted final rules on eligibility for the Medicare prescription drug subsidy. These are the same as the interim final rules already in place.

Jan 17, 2012

The Leninist Strategy For Social Security Hasn't Work

     Every scheme has to start somewhere. Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times points out that the right wing scheme to guarantee Social Security benefits to those who are already retired or who are about to retire while cutting or eliminating benefits for those who are further away from retirement started in 1983. Stuart Butler and Peter Germanis wrote Achieving a Leninist Strategy for the Cato Institute's Journal recommending this tack. Why is this a Leninist strategy? Because Lenin "recognized that fundamental change is contingent both upon a movement's ability to create a focused political coalition and upon its success in isolating and weakening its opponents." I am not sure that the scheme to gradually kill Social Security is what Lenin was talking about. A more accurate title for that 1983 article would have been "Achieving a Divide and Conquer Strategy" but that isn't nearly as catchy a title.
     The prediction in that Cato article that Social Security would eventually collapse under its own weight has proven no truer than Marx's predictions about capitalism. The "Lenisist" strategy for hastening Social Security's demise advocated almost three decades ago in the Cato piece has been far less successful than the strategies that Lenin developed. Maybe it's time for the right to give up on this one. As Dean Baker writes in Huffington Post, time is not on the side of those who want to phase out Social Security.

Jan 16, 2012

What Factors Predispose To Disability?

From Science Daily(emphasis added):
Factors other than genetics and childhood environment affect the risk of going on medical leave or disability pension, reports a study in the January Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).
Led by ├ůsa Samuelsson, MSc, of Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, the researchers used a database including nearly 53,000 Swedish twins born between 1952 and 1958. Twin studies provide uniquely valuable information on the familial factors -- genetics and early life experiences -- affecting health and illness.
At follow-up from 1992 to 2007, the average percentage of participants on disability pension was 10.7 percent per year. Not surprisingly, the strongest risk factor for disability was age: risk was nine times higher for older versus younger workers. Disability pension rates were about five times higher for less-educated workers and two times higher for those who were unmarried.
Marital status was a stronger risk factor in men than women. Risk was also somewhat higher for people living in rural or semi-rural areas.
All of these factors remained significant after adjusting for familial factors. This indicates that disability risk is related to "factors not shared by family members, such as experience or choices in adulthood," the researchers write.

Jan 15, 2012

Earnings Statements Still Not Available Online

From Oregon Live:
Those Social Security statements you once got each year in the mail? They were supposed to be available online by now. They aren't, and it's not clear when they'll be there or whether they'll be mailed instead, as promise.
The Social Security Administration continues to work to get annual statements online, a spokesman said, but has no plans to resume mailing them. .
But the statements still aren't available on ssa.gov. The agency also has no plans to mail them because its budget is in even worse shape than in April, agency spokesman Mike Webb said.
Webb said concerns about security have delayed posting the statements online. But he had no firm timetable for their appearance.
"I do know the current goal is to have some form of an online statement available in the near future," Webb said Thursday. "The issue is always security. We're probably not going to post something just to see what happens."

Jan 14, 2012

Contract Awarded For Data Center Construction

     The Frederick, Maryland News Post reports that a $191.5 million contract has been awarded to Hensel Phelps Construction to build a 300,000 square foot national data center for Social Security in Urbana, Maryland.
     Urbana is currently represented in the House by Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican.

Field Office Closures

     The Norwalk Citizen reports that the local Social Security field office is closing. Local Congressmen are protesting.
     Social Security is also closing its Monclair, NJ field office. In total, five offices in New York and New Jersey are being closed.

Jan 13, 2012

In Case You Weren't Aware, Ohio Has A Republican Governor

From NBC4 in Ohio:
Inside a large building on the north side of Columbus is one of the most important offices in state government.
"We have about 600 employees now and we do over 212,000 claims for Ohioans with disabilities now for Social Security," said Erik Williamson, deputy director of the Division of Disability Determination with the Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC).
It’s in the smallest office, where a handful of workers check to see who's above board in their claims, that some of the most important work is being performed.
The RSC said it is leading the country in fraud detection, recovering $42 million in fraud cases just last year.
"I think the nuances that you have to aware of is that with the economy the way it is, there are people trying to scam not just this system, any type of entitlement system to try and figure out how to pay rent," said Kevin Miller, the agency's director.
"The trend right now seems to be following mental allegations where as it was at one time more often physical," said Tom Melfo, manager of the Division of Disability Determination. ...
[L]ast year $6.5 billion was paid out in disability benefits.

At this rate, the fund will be dried up by 2017.
One of the problems, the agency said, is the number of lawyers trying to get the benefits that have been denied approved.
Their commercials are often aired during daytime programming.

Jan 12, 2012

Social Security Requests Your Input

Social Security is seeking public comments "regarding the unique needs of homeless Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, particularly those who live in public emergency shelters for the homeless, in an effort to better understand and address their needs."

Green Card Woes

From CBS News - Dallas Forth Worth:
Thumbing through old photos Tuesday, Henry Kamnick  often stopped to point out some of his favorite ones with his family.
The Azle father says he’s built a lifetime of memories in North Texas. His family moved to the area from Germany when he was 12-years-old. ...

The 65-year-old has even served his country. He was in the Army and stationed at Fort Hood, but now he says his country is not helping him. ...
Kamnick was approved for social security benefits, but he can’t access the money. He says the Social Security Administration told him he needs to prove permanent residency in the country.
Kamnick says he lost his green card and has been told it could take up to a year to get another one. He admits he should have gotten his citizenship decades ago and still plans to. ...
I have had a nearly identical case. It's not easy to misplace a green card if you haven't needed to show it to anyone for 40 years. Replacing a green card can take a long time.

Jan 11, 2012

Death Master File Changes May Mean Multi-Billion Bonus For Life Insurers

From Fox Business:
For years, the Death Master File of the Social Security Administration (SSA) was a valuable resource for life insurance companies when they needed it, and ignored when they did not. ...
Insurers can use the list to find out if a life insurance policyholder has died, at which point they must pay the beneficiaries. According to Florida, California and New York regulators investigating the insurance industry, many insurers have not consulted the file, leaving it up to beneficiaries to track down the policies and claim their money. ...
In 2011, this came to light when Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty asserted that life insurers had held back $1 billion that could have gone to beneficiaries if insurers had only checked the Death Master File to learn whether their policyholders had died. Other insurance regulators quickly followed up. Life insurers already have paid nearly $53 million as a result, according to a statement released by New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky. ...
But it looks like there will be a reversal in beneficiaries' good fortune. As of Nov. 1, the SSA no longer discloses what it calls "protected state records" of deaths -- essentially any records it acquires from the states, to insurance companies or the public. The decline in the size of the Death Master File is substantial; 4.2 million of its 89 million records will be excised from the public files and made available only to federal agencies.

And of the 2.8 million deaths reported to the file each year, only 1 million will be available to the public. In other words, most recent deaths won't be reported.

Jan 10, 2012

No Comment Department

     From a press release titled Kia Hampton, Miss Congeniality USA 2011, Joins Eric C. Conn Law Firm:
The Eric C. Conn Law Firm, a Social Security Disability Law Firm which focuses on spreading the understanding of Social Security Disability as well as hosting events for individuals in need, today announced the appointment of Kia Hampton as the official Public Information Director. Hampton will focus on strategic programs designed to provide the public with information about Social Security Disability Benefits. She will also be at the forefront as the official spokesperson where she will be spreading awareness about the different events and services the Eric C. Conn Law Firm provides to the community.    ...
Kia Hampton and Eric C. Conn began a unique friendship that culminated in Miss Hampton joining the Eric C. Conn Law Firm.
     For more on Eric Conn, see here and here.

Jan 9, 2012

The Future?

From the Huron Daily Tribune of Michigan:
BAD AXE — The Social Security Administration’s real-time video conference system is set to officially go online next week. ...
It’s been about nine months since the SSA has had a representative available in Bad Axe to meet with local residents. ...
The county entered into an agreement letting SSA set up a real-time video conference system that will be available at the county building.
Social Security claimants will approach a screen featuring a SSA representative who will immediately help them with their business.

Jan 8, 2012

FPS To The Rescue

     According to one blogger, the Federal Protective Service (FPS) sent something like a SWAT team, with a semiautomatic weapon and a bomb sniffing dog, to the Leesburg, VA Social Security field office this past week with no advance warning and for no reason other than training.

Jan 7, 2012

Is This How You Attract Republican Voters?

From the Huffington Post:
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum called Friday for immediate cuts to Social Security benefits ...
"We can't wait 10 years," even though "everybody wants to," Santorum told a crowd while campaigning in New Hampshire and looking to set himself apart from his Republican rivals four days before the New Hampshire primary. ...
He argued that he is being courageous and honest by telling Americans they can't afford to wait to rein in Social Security's growing costs.

Jan 6, 2012

What Explains Variation In Disability Application Rates Across States

From What Explains Variation In Disability Application Rates Across States, a report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College (see below for an illustration from the report):
This brief has examined why SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] application rates vary so much between states. Not surprisingly, health, demographic, and employment characteristics are the major determinants of this state variation, explaining over 70 percent of the variation in total SSDI application rates. In addition, having state-mandated private TDI [Temporary Disability Insurance] is associated with lower application rates, and the governor’s political party [slightly fewer claims in states with Republican governors] is also correlated with the application rate. In short, the health, demographic, and employment characteristics of a state – not state policies or politics – explain most of the variation across states.

Jan 5, 2012

Updated Fee Payment Stats

Social Security has released the following final numbers for 2011 on payments of fees to attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Jan 4, 2012

Not Out Of The Woods

     From Scott Hochberg writing in Huffington Post:
For Social Security’s advocates, this past year has been all about defense. Fortunately, the defense outplayed the offense. Those of us playing defense were backed by the overwhelming majority of the American people who across both party line and virtually every demographic are clear that they do not want to see Social Security benefits weakened by benefit cuts. ...
The journey has not been easy thus far, and the path ahead will be just as formidable. Despite the successes all year in preventing cuts to Social Security, as long as there are many in Congress intent on cutting the program, it will not be out of the woods.
2012 will be a crucial year for Social Security.The extension of the two percentage point cut in employee payroll tax contributions, is moving the program’s financing into unchartered waters.
The GOP presidential candidates are even more radical than Congress has been, with all the major candidates supporting partially privatizing Social Security and at least four calling for the retirement age to be raised (Bachmann, Perry, Romney, Santorum). Remarkably, four are also on record for calling Social Security a “fraud” or “Ponzi scheme” (Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, Romney).
      Hochberg did not write about the attacks on Social Security disability benefits. Social Security's enemies realize that they are a long way from serious reductions in retirement benefits but believe that they can use the upcoming temporary disability trust fund problem as a pretext for gutting disability benefits. That is the biggest immediate threat to Social Security.

Jan 3, 2012

Separating Payment To The Attorney From Payment To The Claimant

     Quite a few years ago Social Security would authorize payment of back benefits to a claimant at one time and then later come back and authorize payment of the attorney fee. (This is so long ago there were no fees being paid to non-attorney representatives at the time.) This was felt to be necessary because the claimant had the right to object under the fee agreement process to the fee. 
     Eventually, Social Security decided this was both inefficient and unnecessary since claimant objections to attorney fees were so rare.
    It's happening again. The authorization of the back benefits to the claimant is being done at one time and the authorization of the attorney fee is coming later. I cannot say how widespread this is but I am starting to see this in most cases.
    This is inefficient. It seems particularly objectionable to me since I am paying a user fee for this service. I cannot understand why this is happening even under the extreme pressures that Social Security's payment centers are facing. It seems so inefficient. Why is this happening?

Jan 2, 2012

The Truth

     "We can no longer do more with less. We will do less with less ..." 
     --Carolyn Colvin, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner, speaking to the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA)

Jan 1, 2012

Happy New Year