May 3, 2012

From The NOSSCR Conference -- II

     Here are some more of Eric Schnaufer's notes, lightly edited by me, on the general session at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) conference:
NOSSCR Executive Director Nancy Shor discussed the increase in disability applications. They were to due to (1) increased coverage by, e.g., school teachers, (2) more women with insured status, (3) increased retirement age, (4) Baby Boomers, (5) weak economy, (6) decline in health insurance coverage, and (7) LTD [Long Term Disability] and state plans that require applying for disability benefits.
She presented the data SSA Chief Actuary Steve Goss presented to the National Academy of Social Insurance on "Why Are More People Claiming Disability Insurance and What Should Be Done About It?"
She and others from NOSSCR met with Commissioner Astrue recently regarding the new policy of withholding the identity of an ALJ [Administrative Law Judge]  until the day of a hearing. Ms. Shor reported that the Commissioner would not change the policy. He considered the policy important. Ms. Shor communicated to the Commissioner objections to the policy nonetheless. Among other things, the Commissioner stated that if representatives forum shopped to avoid low-allowance-rate ALJs, then unrepresented claimants might disproportionately have their claims adjudicated by such ALJs. Ms. Shor communicated that the Agency should punish a representative who did something improper instead of relying on the name-removal policy. Ms. Shor stated that NOSSCR was addressing name-removal policy on Capital Hill. Ms. Shor mentioned that attorney David Camp was seeking to obtain the name of an ALJ revealed via the Freedom of Information Act.

Apart from the meeting with the Commissioner, Ms. Shor stated that NOSSCR is implementing a campaign to inform the public about the disability programs. The membership will receive an opt-in/opt-out choice with respect to receiving information about the campaign.

Ms. Shor explained that the media had turned “180 degrees” in three years, from seeking evidence about individual claimants adversely affected by the hearing backlog to investigating purported waste and fraud.

Ms. Shor stated that, by report, new ALJs were being trained that their role is “policy compliance” and that might account for the allowance rates of some new ALJs.

Ms. Shor explained that the worst case scenario for the disability trust fund is payment of eighty-six percent of benefits.

NOSSCR Staff Attorney Barbara Silverstone addressed new electronic filing requirements. She stated that even if a representative did not file electronically a reconsideration or rehearing request, that a fee would still be withheld. She explained that if the screen shows “System Limitations” upon attempted filing of a reconsideration or hearing request, that means that a paper request must be filed. The representative did nothing wrong. For example, if the prior determination on was partially favorable, a paper reconsideration or hearing request must be filed. For example, for determinations made prior to 2010 for which SSR [Social Security Ruling] 91-5p issues are relevant, a paper reconsideration or hearing request must be filed.

Ms. Silverstone noted that a representative may not click the button to submit an application online. The claimant must click the button. It is a violation of the standards of conduct to click the button for the claimant.

SSA OGC [Office of General Counsel] will investigate “egregious trends” by a representative not to file electronically. If a representative does not file electronically once or twice, that is not a problem. It is a violation of the standards of conduct not to file electronically when required to do so.

Ms. Silverstone noted several best practices suggested by SSA.
  • When faxing documents, include a cover page with the claimant’s name and SSN [Social Security Number] and the number of pages of the document. Each page of the document should have the claimant’s SSN and the page number and page range, e.g., “page 2 of 4 
  • Do not submit both electronic and duplicate paper documents
  • The SSA-3441 [an appeal form] should be filed with the appeal document. SSA [Social Security Administration] wants a representative to explain the appeal in the SSA-3441. The 250-character limit in the appeal document itself is thus not a problem.
NOSSCR Government Affairs Director Ethel Zelenske summarized information that will appear in the April 2012 NOSSCR Forum.
  • Appeals Council Ombudsperson T. Jensen’s “new” fax number is (703) 605-8691. 
  • Status inquires at the Appeals Council should not be made to the Branch handling the request for review, but to the Congressional and Public Affairs. (877) 670-2722. That entity will hire more staff. The Branch personnel are being reassigned to other duties. 
  • Do not use hearing-level bar codes at the Appeals Council.  Bar codes will automatically be sent with any request for an extension of time that is made with the request for review itself. The Appeals Council will automatically grant an extension of time made with the request for review. 
  • The recording of the hearing will be available via ERE [Electronic Records Express] at the close of 2012. 
  • There is an e-mail contact for court remands more than six months old. (See April 2012 Forum.)
  • Status reports are not available at the Appeals Council, but they might be in the future.


Anonymous said...

The high allowance rate for new ALJs can be better explained by the fact that many recent hires were SSA attorneys first and therefore are enmeshed in a culture that pushes a high pay rate as a way to reduce the backlog.

Anonymous said...

you do of course realize that the national pay rate is down to less than 50% which is lower than it has been in a long time.