Jun 30, 2015

Fewer People Drawing Disability Benefits

     The Social Security Administration has finally released updated numbers for May on the number of people drawing Disability Insurance Benefits. The decline was tiny but the number drawing disability benefits went down in May. In seven of the last eight months the number drawing these benefits has declined.

Jun 29, 2015

Social Security Still Has To Consult With DOJ On Same Sex Marriages

     Despite the Supreme Court's decision that same sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, the Social Security Administration still isn't ready to treat all partners to same sex marriages the same as partners to heterosexual marriages. They're going to be "working with the Department of Justice" before issuing instructions. What's the over/under on this? A month?

Jun 26, 2015

Same Sex Marriage And Social Security

     The Supreme Court's decision that there is a constitutional right to same sex marriage mostly settles the issue as far as Social Security is concerned. However, there may still be a few issues. Social Security has deferred decisions on most claims based upon same sex marriages. Those can now be processed. However, I suspect that some claims based upon same sex marriages were denied in the past. There may still be issues about back benefits in these cases. I expect that Social Security management is happy that this issue is being put to rest.

Not Keeping Up

Jun 25, 2015

4% Error Rate In Computing SSI Attorney Fees

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
For the 250 randomly sampled Title XVI claims involving claimant representative fees, SSA withheld fee s from claimants’ past-due benefits and paid the fees directly to the claimant representative. However, our review found that SSA did not always pay the appropriate amount when it paid the claimant representative fee on concurrent Title II and XVI claims. As a result, when SSA overpaid the claimant representative, it generally underpaid the claimant. Similarly, when SSA underpaid the claimant representative, it generally overpaid the claimant. 
Of the 250 sample claimant representative fees, 10 (4 percent) had claimant fee payment errors totaling $13,020: $12,479 in overpayments and $541 in underpayments. The payments ranged from a $3,062 overpayment to a $484 underpayment. Based on our results, we estimate that 15,200 claimant representative fee payments had about $19.8 million in payment errors for Calendar Years 2011 and 2012.
We acknowledge that computing past-due benefits and the related claimant representative fees may be complex, as staff is required to analyze a multitude of factors and make various decisions to pay the past-due benefits and fee. ...

Jun 24, 2015

Shouldn't They Ask What The Claimants Want?

     I find Larry Kotlikoff's pieces on Social Security to be ridiculously sensationalized. I rarely link to them. However, even though he's hyping this one too much, I still think he's onto something:
Despite our best efforts, we continue to be shocked by new horror stories about the Social Security Administration (SSA) that our readers bring to our attention. The latest galling example is one of the worst we've ever seen, and involves how the agency decides what to do when someone wants to defer benefits. 

Readers of our book know that we are big believers in delaying benefits where possible. If someone delays claiming their retirement benefit until it reaches its maximum value at age 70, their monthly benefit will be 76-percent higher — in inflation-adjusted terms — than if they claim at age 62, which is the earliest age at which normal retirement benefits may be taken. 
 Now, we've just learned, to our amazement, that Social Security is denying the delayed benefit wishes of some applicants and is instead forcing them to accept six months of retroactive benefits and a lifetime of lower benefits thereafter. Some beneficiaries may not even be aware that this is being done to them. This is a colossal injustice. ...
 Say someone comes in to their local Social Security office a few months shy of their 70th birthday and, as we're all told to do, gives the agency a head's up on their filing intentions....
 Instead of accepting their application for benefits to begin at age 70, the agency's representative instead gives the person a six-month retroactive payment! This act resets the person's entitlement back to what it was six months prior and wipes out half a year of Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs). ...
We brought this to the attention of Jerry Lutz, the former Social Security technical expert who has reviewed nearly everything Larry has ever written about Social Security. Jerry consulted the SSA operations manual that sets forth agency policies and came back as amazed as we were.
"Based on SSA regulations, retroactivity is automatically applied to applications filed after FRA unless retroactivity is expressly restricted by the claimant," he wrote.

Jun 23, 2015

Some Technical Questions

     At one time if a document was scanned in color and submitted to Social Security's Electronic Records Express (ERE) system the document would remain in color in ERE. When medical records arrive in my office in a fuzzy state I have been scanning them in color not because the documents were in color but to try to make them more legible once uploaded to ERE. Documents scanned in color have a higher resolution than documents scanned in black and white. Does ERE still retain documents scanned in color in their native format or does it now degrade them to black and white? 
     While I'm at it, has the resolution ERE is using changed? Maybe it's my eyes but it seems like ERE records have gotten more difficult to read. I'm wondering if documents I'm uploading in a normal black and white resolution are being degraded to a lower resolution. 
     You might ask why Social Security would intentionally degrade documents uploaded to ERE. The answer is that higher resolution documents take up more storage space. When they're transmitted they take up more bandwidth. Storage space and bandwidth are important to network managers. Document legibility isn't of so much concern to them since they don't have to read the documents.

It's Only Fiction

     A recent Orange Is The New Black episode featured a misleading segment touching on Supplemental Security Income for children. I've been around long enough to know that it was never easy to get a child on benefits due to Attention Deficit Disorder-Hyperactivity (ADHD). It's now impossible. Sure, there are children with ADHD who get on benefits now but they're not getting on due to ADHD. They're getting on due to other problems.

Jun 22, 2015

IRS Proposes ABLE Regulations

     The Internal Revenue Service has issued a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) on ABLE accounts. ABLE accounts will allow contributions to accounts to help disabled individuals drawing Supplemental Security Income, which is administered by the Social Security Administration. These regulations as well as new state statutes are needed so that ABLE accounts can be established.

Jun 21, 2015

Isn't This Michael Astrue's Fault?

     From Fox News:
On paper, it sounded like a true government success story: The Social Security Administration in September opened a "state-of-the-art" data center in Maryland, housing wage and benefit information on almost every American, "on time and under budget." 
However, six years after Congress approved a half-billion dollars for the project -- the largest building project funded by the 2009 stimulus -- a whistleblower says the center was built on a lie. 
"We misled Congress," Michael Keegan, a former associate commissioner who worked on the project, told FoxNews.com. 
Officials originally claimed they needed the $500 million to replace their entire, 30-year-old National Computer Center located at agency headquarters in Woodlawn, Md. But Keegan says they overstated their case -- the agency has no plans to replace the center, and only moved a fraction of the NCC to the new site.  ...
Keegan maintains the agency didn't have to move anybody out of the NCC, and could have simply renovated the floor holding the old data center. 
"The data center occupies one half of one floor in a four-story building," he told FoxNews.com. "We didn't need to build [the new center] to begin with." ...
Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin said in a deposition she "did not" know of any plan to abandon the NCC or move all its workers to another site. Other officials echoed this statement. ...
Former SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue, who led the agency under President George W. Bush and for several years under President Obama, also said he's not sure why the building isn't being replaced entirely. 
Astrue said he made the original decision to replace the NCC, toward the end of the Bush administration. He said the building was "antiquated and fraying," and was worried a disruption in payments could send "the entire economy into recession." A backup SSA center in North Carolina, he said, was not enough. 
Astrue said his intention was to replace and phase out the NCC entirely, and disputed Keegan's claims that Congress was misled. He maintains the proposal was the "correct decision." 
But he said he was "surprised" to learn the NCC is still in operation. He doesn't know why. ...
When the Office of the Inspector General reviewed Keegan's complaints, it concluded the SSA "did not mislead" Congress to believe the NCC wouldn't be needed. At the same time, the OIG acknowledged SSA talked about "replacing" the center and "did not implicitly state" it would stay in use. (Further, while IG Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr., oversaw the spending, he also was among those making the case for the project, telling Congress in 2009 the NCC was "rapidly approaching obsolescence.") 
Like the OIG, the Office of Special Counsel last year also said they could not determine whether agency leaders misled Congress. Keegan disputes these findings.
     So what did Carolyn Colvin do wrong? She didn't order employees to make an unnecessary move to an unnecessary new building which was built at the insistence of her predecessor. If there's fault here, it's on Michael Astrue who insisted on building this expensive new structure instead of using stimulus money to hire additional personnel to work down the agency's backlogs. Much fault should also be laid at the door of the many members of Congress who were active cheerleaders for building the new National Data Center. My recollection is that Republican members of Congress were the biggest supporters of the new building. They always prefer spending money on contractors to spending money on hiring needed personnel.

Jun 20, 2015

Representation Crisis In Kentucky

     If you thought all those former clients of Eric Conn whose Social Security disability benefits are being cut off can just go to Legal Aid for representation, think again. Legal Aid doesn't have anything like the resources. It might be interesting if hundreds of law students were turned loose on these cases.

Jun 19, 2015

At Least They Admit There's A Problem

     I just received this message from Social Security: "For 6/19/15, the Social Security Administration Electronic Records Express (ERE) Website is experiencing intermittent slowness and/or degraded service. Systems is working to resolve the issue. We will provide updates as available."

Shouldn't This Be Taught In School?

     From a press release:
 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) today announced the results of a survey aimed to better understand how much Americans know about Social Security retirement benefits.  The results of the survey, which included a true/false quiz about Social Security facts, were concerning: only 28 percent of those surveyed received a passing grade when asked basic questions about Social Security retirement benefits. ...
To test your Social Security IQ, take the MassMutual quiz. ...
According to the research, Americans remain optimistic about the future of Social Security. More than three out of five surveyed (63 percent) believe Social Security will be available to them when they retire, with a quarter of those surveyed strongly holding that belief.  However, less than half (45 percent) think the program will have sufficient funding when they retire. This may be why only 39 percent expect to rely more on Social Security than their personal savings or income in retirement, with just 15 percent expecting to rely solely on Social Security.

Jun 18, 2015

ERE Seems To Be Working

     In fairness to Social Security, I should note that the agency's ERE system that allows attorneys representing Social Security claimants to electronically access their clients' files appears to have been working today. At least, I was able to use it and, unlike yesterday, I haven't been hearing complaints from others today about ERE.

What's The Alternative To Social Security?

     From Eduardo Porter's column in the New York Times:
... Consider the following calculation by James Poterba, a professor of economics at M.I.T.
If inflation-adjusted investment returns averaged 2 percent a year — not an unreasonable assumption given low interest rates and a stock market likely to deliver subpar returns over the next decade or so — a worker would have to save almost 15 percent of each paycheck for 40 years to get an annuity stream equal to half of final earnings at retirement, assuming a 2 percent risk-free rate of return. A late starter who saved for only 20 years would need to set aside a full third of earnings.
Matters would be easier if investments yielded 4 percent: With a 4 percent risk-free rate, affording an annuity equal to half the last paycheck upon retirement would require saving less than 10 percent for 40 years, or just over 25 percent for 20.
How does that compare with what workers actually save? From 1990 to 2010, the typical contribution to 401(k) accounts ranged from 4.7 to 5.2 percent of earnings. ...

Jun 17, 2015

ERE Almost Completely Non-Functional

     By this point, Social Security's Electronic Records Express (ERE) system which is supposed to allow attorneys to access their clients' Social Security records, is almost completely non-functional. This will cause hearings to be delayed. Attorneys will have to start mailing in copies of new medical records instead of uploading them. And, still, as best I can tell, there's nothing on any Social Security website acknowledging that there's a problem. If you e-mail them, you get a form reply back indicating that they're working on the problem but, so far, they keep acting like this is a minor matter. I would say this is the worst problem with ERE since its earliest days.

This Is How You Encourage Return To Work?

     Yesterday's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee featured testimony from David Weaver, Social Security's Associate Commissioner for the Office of Research, Demonstration, and Employment Support and from Daniel Bertoni of the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Here are a couple of charts from Weaver's testimony showing the complexity of Social Security's work incentives.

     Bertoni testified that GAO had "identified a number of situations where beneficiaries report work or earnings, but staff may not enter information into the system, which is inconsistent with federal internal control standards, or may not provide a receipt, as mandated by law." (footnotes omitted).
     By the way, the House Ways and Means Committee has redone its website recently. It's a real mess. It's hard to find anything on it. I think that Paul Ryan needs to show some leadership and get this fixed. It's a poor reflection on this venerable Committee.

Jun 16, 2015

What's Going On With ERE?

     What's going on with Electronic Records Express (ERE), Social Security's online system which allows attorneys access to their clients' files? It's been barely functional all week. It hangs up, making it difficult or impossible to do anything. The website has a "What's New" feature but it's not been updated in a month. At least, you can admit there's a problem and say you're working on it. What? Did you think no one would notice?
     By the way, how's the system working for agency employees?

More Problems For Eric Conn's Former Clients

     The next problem for those 900 former clients of Eric Conn whose Social Security disability benefits are threatened: Few of them will be able to hire an attorney. Since they're now eligible for interim benefits as they appeal, there won't be any back benefits for an attorney to get a one quarter  fee out of. Of course, the local Social Security attorneys could drop everything else and represent all these folks pro bono but any attorney who did so would be bankrupt long before these cases are resolved.
     This is going to continue to be a mess for years into the future.

Jun 15, 2015

Insurance Companies Monitoring Social Security Disability Debate

     Companies which write Long Term Disability (LTD) insurance policies are paying attention to the debate over what to do about the impending shortfall in Social Security's Disability Insurance Trust Fund. LTD benefits are reduced, or offset, by the amount of Disability Insurance Benefits. Anything that reduces the Disability Insurance Benefits increases the amount paid by LTD insurance companies. The companies are making sure that the language in their policies protects them should there by any major change in Social Security disability benefits. Some insurance companies would like to make LTD insurance mandatory or, at least, make it an "opt out" for employees. Some companies would like to take over claims adjudication for Social Security.

Jun 14, 2015

An Early OASIS Cover

OASIS is Social Security's employee magazine. OASIS stands for Old Age and Survivors Insurance.

Jun 12, 2015

A Whistleblower's Tale

     Michael James Keegan, who was formerly Social Security's Associate Commissioner for Facilities and Supply Management testified yesterday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Here are some excerpts from his written statement:
In January 2012, I was assigned as the Project Executive for the construction of a replacement data center in Urbana, MD. ... The center piece of the justification presented to Congress was that the National Computing Center building was beyond economical repair, in terrible condition and had to be replaced in totality. Additionally, SSA officials testified that it was legally required that the new data center be located at least 35 miles from the existing National Computing Center in Woodlawn, MD....
[In early 2013] I gave [my supervisor] a detailed briefing on serious issues that I believed included misleading Congress, waste and abuse. They included:
  1. The case to replace the existing National Computing Center (NCC) was “overstated” and relied too heavily on the premise that the NCC was in “terrible condition” and could no longer support the agency mission.
  2. The rationale and references used to justify relocating the new National Support Center (data center) 35 miles from the existing campus were very “broadly” interpreted at best and not applicable at all in my opinion.
  3. Retention of the existing NCC building was absolutely essential to house the ~925 employees who must remain when the data center function was relocated.
  4. In working with GSA [General Services Administration, which has jurisdiction over federal buildings], SSA [Social Security Administration] staff and reviewing historical files, I had discovered that SSA has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in poorly developed and in many cases, unneeded projects.
  5. That prior to my arrival there had been no controls on travel and that many OFSM [Office of Facilites and Supply Management] employees have traveled widely across the United States to various SSA locations without adequate justification or business purpose.
  6. My efforts at reducing overtime from ~60,000 hours in 2011 to ~25,000 hours in 2012 had revealed significant abuses and unsubstantiated use of overtime inconsistent with SSA policies. The impact of my work yielded a reduction in overtime expenditures from 2011 to 2012 of approximately $2,500,000. ...
On April 26, 2014 I was called by [my supervisor] and he instructed me as follows:
* I am to "forget" the issues that I brought to his attention.
* That "he" will handle this with no specifics what that meant.
* That I will no longer be required at the quarterly Congressional staff briefings before the House Ways & Means Committee, Subcommittee on Social Security. ...
[O]n May 2, 2013, I was summoned to a short notice meeting with [my supervisor]. He proceeded to tell me that I was being placed under formal investigation due to unspecified "complaints".
On May 21, 2013, [my supervisor] appeared in my office and informed me that I had been relieved of my duties and that I had 30 minutes to clear out my office. Additionally, I was given a direct order not to communicate with any of my employees. I was then directed to report to the Operations organization in a temporary assignment.
During the period from May 21st until early December, I was confined to an empty office with little or no work to do, no responsibilities and very little contact with other SSA employees. I made numerous requests for updates and status on the "investigation" however [my supervisor] did not respond to any of my inquiries. ...
The alleged genesis of the investigation SSA launched against me was done solely to retaliate against me. According to [my supervisor], the decision to have me investigated happened after he met with Cynthia Ennis, AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees] Union president at SSA, who provided him a number of written complaints against me.  ...
My job at SSA was not to be liked by employees. The American taxpayer didn't pay me to accomplish that goal. SSA is not a country club or someone's living room. It's an Agency tasked with administering benefits to the elderly and disabled. It's there to serve our citizens, rather than our citizens serving SSA management. ...
In summary, despite the fact that I had a flawless 44 year performance history including two superior performance reviews (2011 and 2012) at SSA, I was forced to retire in disgrace,dishonor and financial hardship due to the fact that I choose to do the right thing and report fraud, waste and abuse.
      Is he a whistleblower revealing serious problems at Social Security? Is he a crank? Is he some of both? That's the problem with whistleblowers. It's hard to know.

Effect Of Eliminating The F.I.C.A. Wage Base Cap

     If you've been looking for an actuarial study of the effect of eliminating the cap on wages covered by the F.I.C.A. tax and allowing those extra wages to be considered in determining Social Security benefit payments, Social Security's Chief Actuary has you what you need. See the table below but note that the proposal would also change Social Security's COLA to the CPI-E index. The "E" is for elderly. That change would increase the COLA. Eliminate consideration of the additional wage base in benefit computations and stick with the current COLA and the Trust Fund reserves stay in balance almost as far as can be computed.

Jun 11, 2015

Noah Didn't Need No Stinking Social Security!

     A quote from Greg Gianforte, Republican candidate for governor of Montana:
There's nothing in the Bible that talks about retirement. And yet it's been an accepted concept in our culture today. Nowhere does it say, "Well, he was a good and faithful servant, so he went to the beach." It doesn't say that anywhere.
The example I think of is Noah. How old was Noah when he built the ark? 600. He wasn't like, cashing Social Security checks, he wasn't hanging out, he was working. So, I think we have an obligation to work. The role we have in work may change over time, but the concept of retirement is not biblical.

Jun 10, 2015

Social Security Subcommittee Schedules Hearing On Return To Work

     From a press release:
Today, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) announced that the subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) management of earnings reports from disability beneficiaries trying to go back to work. The SSA faces difficulties processing earnings reports and adjusting benefits in a timely fashion, in part due to the complexity of the work incentives in the Disability Insurance program. These difficulties can cause large overpayments for disability beneficiaries trying to return to work. The hearing will take place on Tuesday, June 16, at 2:00 PM in room B-318 of the Rayburn House Building.
Upon the announcement, Chairman Johnson said, “There are two problems for the American taxpayer when Social Security can’t manage earnings reports: First, dollars go out that shouldn’t; Second, individuals who want to work are discouraged from doing so. It’s time Congress takes a look at what drives overpayments. The American people want, need, and deserve nothing less.”
     If this Subcommittee wants to do something truly useful and bipartisan, it should simplify Social Security's work incentives. There has been one piece of legislation after another over decades based upon the fantasy that just one more incentive will cause Social Security disability recipients to go back to work in droves. It hasn't happened. It's not going to happen. It's just too hard to get on Social Security disability benefits. Realistically, few recipients have the capacity to return to regular employment. The work incentives have been added onto so many times that they're a confusing mess which is almost impossible to administer. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Don't do it in the belief that simplification will return more people to work. Simplify so that the system of work incentives can be effectively administered.

When Will We See The Trustees Report?

     When will we see the report of the Social Security Trustees? Last year it was released on July 28. In 2013, it was released on May 31. In 2012, it was released on April 23. When will it be this year? August?
     This is ridiculous. I'm sure that the main part of the report, the projections of Social Security's Chief Actuary, was ready months ago. Last year, there were rumors of wrangling behind the scenes. The Republican trustees were pushing some obscure agenda on exactly what the report would say. I never understood what the Republican Trustees were trying to achieve. What little I could understand seemed to amount to nothing anyway. Is there another controversy this year as Republicans push some language that would make the Trust Funds look like they're a little worse off than the language the Democratic Trustees would prefer? If so, it's silly. Virtually no one pay attention to anything other than the bottom line and few people pay attention to that. This isn't legislation where every word can make a difference.

Jun 9, 2015


     I have written before to warn that some comments on this blog appear to have been authored by a person or person who pretends to be a current or former Social Security employee with actual knowledge of conditions at Social Security. There are a fair number of these posts which ring false to me but I only call out those that go beyond implausible. Here's one:
One case I remember was a mother receiving SSI benefits for a year and a half for a child she had given up for adoption at birth. Benefits were ceased for failure to cooperate. I had the case at the recon level (of course Mom asked for benefit continuation) and discovered this to be the case when I wrote to the hospital where the baby was born and the pediatrician they sent records to. Not only was there fraud on her part but her parents and other relatives withheld information.
     Let me list the problems here:
  • How does the birth mother get SSI benefits for a child she gave up at birth? The child would have to be quite sick. How would the birth mother know what was wrong with the child? How would she know where the child was being treated? Without this information, the birth mother can't get benefits. I can imagine the possibility of an open adoption where the birth mother would have some of this information so I'll just call this improbable.
  • Doesn't the disability examiner notice the adoption when reviewing the medical records at the time the claim is filed? I have seen medical records on sick children. Pediatricians pay attention to the parents of sick children and mention facts like adoption in the medical records. In the case of a very sick child, I'm expect that adoption would be prominently mentioned in the medical records. Maybe the disability examiner missed this but it's improbable.
  • Why would benefits be ceased for failure to cooperate a year and a half into benefit payments? Normally, a denial for failure to cooperate is something that happens when a case is first being adjudicated. This could happen but it's another improbability.
  • The person writing this is posing as a current or former Social Security field office employee but says that he or she wrote to the hospital where the baby was born. That's not something that field office employees do. It's hard to imagine why the field office employee would even want to do this. This one is highly improbable. It sounds like it was written by a person lacking a firm grasp of the role of the field office versus the role of disability determination.
  • Most important, there's no benefit continuation for a failure to cooperate cessation. This one is beyond improbable. It's impossible. Even if benefit continuation did exist for this circumstance if the birth mother could ask for benefit continuation she could certainly avoid cessation for failure to cooperate. Again, this sounds like it was written by someone who lacks a firm grasp of basic Social Security law and procedure.
     Be careful when reading comments to this blog. Some commentators are pretending to have knowledge they lack. This seems to happen every time I write about anything relating to the incidence of fraud at Social Security. The poseurs could be Congressional staffers. They could be "think tank" employees. They could simply be paid shills and, yes, people are paid to write comments like this on blogs and newspaper articles. Posing as a government employee with inside knowledge is a common tactic.

Jun 8, 2015

Many Allegations But Little Substance

Here's a table from a recent report filed with Congress by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG). Notice the huge disparity between the number of allegations received and the number of actual investigations much less criminal convictions. No, I don't think that disparity is because OIG fails to aggressively pursue cases of fraud. I think it's because there's little substance to most allegations of fraud. Republicans can spin it all they want but given Social Security's size, the amount of verifiable fraud at the agency is tiny.

Jun 7, 2015

Misleading AP Story On Overpayments

     Here's the lead sentence from the AP article on the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on overpayments in Social Security's Disability Insurance Benefits program "Social Security overpaid nearly half the people receiving disability benefits over the past decade, according to a government watchdog, raising questions about the management of the cash-strapped program."
     This could have been the AP lead sentence "Only 3% of Social Security disability benefits are paid incorrectly and the Social Security Administration is able to recoup 85% of the benefits paid incorrectly." That's also what the OIG report showed. Of course, that wouldn't have been the lead sentence because it's boring. It also wouldn't have been the lead sentence because the AP writer was clued into the OIG report by some Republican operative who heavily emphasized the "nearly half" part even though it's misleading. 
     Let's say there was a study showing that over a 10 year time period 22% of drivers were caught driving drunk at some time. There isn't such a study as far as I know but let's say there was. Would it be fair and reasonable to have the lead sentence on an article about that study that reads "Nearly a quarter of all people who drove over the last ten years were found to be driving drunk, raising questions about law enforcement on our dangerous highways." I would say no. First, 22% isn't nearly a quarter, any more than 44% is nearly half. More important, if 22% of drivers have been caught driving drunk, law enforcement is doing its job in catching people driving drunk. There's no reason to question what law enforcement is doing. For the same reason, there's no reason to question the Social Security Administration's efforts to detect and prevent overpayments. Most important, the hypothetical lead sentence is misleading since it suggests that at any given time that nearly one quarter of drivers are drunk and that's not what the hypothetical study showed. By the same token, the OIG didn't show that at any given time 44% of benefits recipients are being overpaid as the AP story implies. The AP story is misleading.

Jun 6, 2015

OIG Report On Overpayments

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Our review of 1,532 beneficiaries in current pay status as of October 2003 found that over a 10-year period (from October 2003 through February 2014), SSA [Social Security Administration] assessed overpayments for 44.5 percent of sampled beneficiaries. Based on the sample, we estimated
  • SSA assessed overpayments totaling about $16.8 billion between October 2003 and February 2014 for approximately 4 million beneficiaries who were in current payment status in October 2003 ;
  • SSA recovered about $8 .1 billion of the $16.8 billion in overpayments it assessed ; and
  • SSA prevented about $8 billion in overpayments between October 2003 and February 2014 to approximately 1 million beneficiaries in current pay status in October 2003 by suspending monthly payments.
Additionally, the overpayment rate in Fiscal Year 2004 was 3.1 percent of all benefits paid that year.
     The report goes on to note that although it can take time, after ten years Social Security had been able to recover 85% of the overpayments made in 2003. Many of the overpayments were, as the report puts it, unavoidable because the individuals received interim benefits while they appealed benefit terminations.

Jun 5, 2015

I Think I Know Why Eric Conn Hasn't Been Prosecuted -- He's A Doofus

     I can't remember much from my law school class on criminal law but I do remember that prosecuting someone for fraud is awfully difficult. You have to prove that the defendant intended to deceive, did deceive and that the deception caused harm. That's a lot to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. Let's look at some of the problems involved in prosecuting Eric Conn for fraud.
     Was Social Security really deceived? Social Security's Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) aren't stupid. When they see the same type of odd-looking evidence submitted repeatedly they ask questions. They also tend to come to conclusions about that evidence. In my book, I advise against attorneys sending all their clients to one physician for medical examinations. Even if everything is above board, this looks bad to ALJs. They heavily discount the evidence. In Conn's case, I would hazard a guess that the ALJs who were receiving the medical "reports" that Conn is alleged to have submitted would testify that they knew the reports were bogus and paid no attention to them. If you wonder why Social Security couldn't recognize that Conn was acting fraudulently, maybe the answer is that they did realize it but thought what Conn was doing was a farce. Conn wasn't winning because of the allegedly phony reports but despite them.
     Can what Conn is alleged to have done be considered deceptive when it is little different than what Social Security does routinely? Most Social Security disability claim files at the hearing level contain "opinions" offered by physicians at the initial and reconsideration levels. These physicians never see the claimants. The opinion forms are usually filled out by a non-physician disability examiner and then routinely signed off on by the physician. Workloads are such that it is impossible for the physicians to actually review the medical evidence in most cases. The physicians or, more accurately, the disability examiners rely upon Social Security RFC (Residual Functional Capacity) guidelines in filling out the forms. In theory, the RFC guidelines don't exist. Social Security denies that they exist. Yeah, right. Does Social Security want some of these physicians on the stand testifying under oath about the RFC guidelines? Not only do the opinions of Social Security's physicians appear in the files but Social Security has told ALJs that these physicians are "experts" whose opinions must be considered and that their opinions may be entitled to more weight than that given to the opinions of treating physicians. How is what Social Security does any different than what Conn is alleged to have done, other than the fact that Conn, unlike Social Security, was in no position to demand that ALJs treat the opinions with more respect than they deserved?
     Would the decisions have been any different if Conn had not submitted the questionable opinions? Much attention has been paid to the fact that ALJ David Daugherty was approving essentially all of Conn's clients. Little attention has been paid to the fact that Daugherty was approving essentially all of every other attorney's clients as well. No one is alleging that the other attorneys were submitting the same sort of medical reports that Conn is alleged to have submitted. I think a jury would probably conclude that the questionable opinions were of no consequence; Daugherty would have approved the cases without the opinions Conn submitted.

     To me, Conn doesn't look like a criminal. He looks like a doofus whose only real skill is self-promotion. He couldn't figure out that his silly scheme was ineffective and would look criminal to a many people.

Jun 4, 2015

Social Security Folds

     WYMT-TV reports that "Social Security Administration officials announced Thursday disability benefits for hundreds of Appalachian residents will be restored."

Television Coverage For Kentucky Fiasco

     The local television station is covering the fiasco in Kentucky.

Jun 3, 2015

But We've Really Been Pressed By Republicans In Congress To Do Something!

     From the Lexington Herald-Dispatch:
The Social Security Administration has until 5 p.m. Thursday to respond to attorneys who seek an injunction to block the immediate suspension of disability benefits to more than 900 people, according to a court order entered Wednesday. ...
U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar scheduled a telephonic hearing on the injunction for 3 p.m. Friday.
[The attorney's] motion, filed late Tuesday, linked as many as three suicides to the suspension notices. He first learned of an Ivel, Ky., man's death, whose widow he cited in saying the client shot himself Monday. ...
U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., called upon Social Security to give each person more time to provide medical records to support their original claim, according to letters sent to Social Security's Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin. ...

I Have A Feeling

     Why do I have a feeling that Social Security management expects the U.S. District Court to enter a preliminary injunction preventing the agency from summarily cutting off disability benefits to 900 of Eric Conn's former clients and that agency management will be relieved when that happens?

Today's Congressional Hearing

Panel 1
  • Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX)
    Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)
    Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA)
    Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
    Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY)
    Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH)
    Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
Panel 2
  • Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General, Social Security Administration
  • Dan Bertoni, Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, Government Accountability Office
  • Curt Eysink, Executive Director, Louisiana Workforce Commission
  • Debra Rohlman, Vice President of Government Sales, Equifax Workforce Solutions
  • Rebecca Vallas, Director of Policy for Poverty to Prosperity Program, Center for American Progress

     Let me explain one thing. The Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over Supplemental Security Income but not Social Security which has its own Subcommittee. Occasionally the two Subcommittees hold joint hearings but this isn't a joint hearing. There may be testimony today touching on Social Security but this Subcommittee can't advance legislation dealing with Social Security.

Jun 2, 2015

Take It Up With The Department Of Justice

     From the summary of a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):

Between February 1962 and January 2015, SSA paid $20.2 million in benefits to 133 individuals alleged, or found, to have participated in Nazi persecution. This occurred because the Social Security Act did not prohibit the payment of most of these benefits when they were paid. The $20.2 million in payments included $14.5 million paid to 95 beneficiaries who were not deported and $5.7 million paid to 38 beneficiaries who were deported. 

Jun 1, 2015

Ways And Means Schedules Hearing For Wednesday

     From a press release:
Today, Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) announced that the subcommittee will hold a hearing titled, “Protecting the Safety Net from Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.” The hearing will take place at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 3 ...  
In view of the limited time available, oral testimony at this hearing will be from invited witnesses only. Witnesses will include Members of Congress with reform proposals as well as experts on the operation of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs. ... 
In announcing the hearing, Chairman Boustany stated, “The SSI and UI programs annually waste billions of dollars due to improper payment rates that average around 10 percent year after year. It’s long past time that we identify the causes and start implementing real reforms to improve the integrity of these programs. That will benefit taxpayers, but especially those who most need this assistance.”

Class Action Lawsuit Over Terminations Of Benefits

     A class action lawsuit has been brought against the Social Security Administration over the termination of benefits which had been going to approximately 900 firmer clients of Eric Conn. 
     Meanwhile the Lexington Herald-Leader has run an editorial criticizing Social Security for cutting off these benefits but not prosecuting Conn. It's not just me who finds it peculiar that the evidence exists to justify summarily cutting 900 people off benefits but the evidence doesn't exist to suspend Conn from practicing before Social Security, a civil matter which would only require proof by a preponderance of the evidence, much less to bring criminal charges against him. Social Security can yell "It's fraud! It's fraud!" all they want but this doesn't make sense.