Social Security's Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are denying a higher percentage of the disability claims they hear. Earlier this week I posted this excerpt from a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article:
The Social Security Administration has moved toward more standardized decision-making, said Assistant Deputy Commissioner Jim Borland. He said the number of judges who allow nearly all claims has fallen by more than half since 2007.
“We have created new tools to focus on quality,” Borland said. “Each quarter, we train our adjudicators on the most complex, error-prone provisions of law and regulation.” ...
That seemed to me to be something of a boast that Social Security had found a way to influence at least some ALJs to deny more claims. How would the agency accomplish this? One commenter, probably an ALJ posted this response:
I believe what you say here is true insofar as the training part. For decades, the files were assembled, i. e., organized and exhibited, and then given to the judge to review before it was scheduled. During this review, the judge would determine whether any additional medical exams should be ordered and whether the evidence was sufficient for an award on the record.
Beginning two to three years ago, the new judges were "trained" to NOT conduct a pre-scheduling review, but rather to review the cases just shortly before the hearing.
The general effect of this is to deprive some claimants of more thorough development of the medical record and in my opinion likely reduces the award rate.
In addition, the most sinister program in place is called "How Am I Doing." This is a desktop program that opens to display graphs which show the case production rate of the judge in comparison to his peers. The really bad part is a graph that displays the judge's grants versus denials.
There is no purpose for the grant/denial graph other than to herd judges to the mean. Not based on the facts of the case. I question the impartiality of judges with the introduction of this behavior modification tool. It can have no other purpose except to influence the outcome of cases based on something other than the facts of the case.
For those of you on the inside, is this an accurate statement of what is going on? Are these good things or bad things? If there is such a thing as "How Am I Doing", would it have the effect of reducing the percentage of claims approved? Would it affect ALJs who allow a high percentage of claims more than it affects those deny a high percentage of claims?