Jul 7, 2015

Senator Lankford Has A Plan

     Senator James Lankford (R-OK) has written a piece for The Hill about Social Security disability. Here are a few excerpts:
In May, over a thousand West Virginians and Kentuckians went to their mailbox and found letters telling them their disability checks would soon be cut off. 
Why? Because a government watchdog group had reason to believe that yet another lawyer and/or doctor was involved in Social Security fraud.  ...
It is time for a major overhaul of the disability system and a renewed focus on the disabled. Before the SSDI program goes insolvent in 2016, there are things that Congress and the Social Security Administration can do to protect the program for those who rely on it and the taxpayers who fund it.
A step in the right direction would include preventing individuals from receiving checks for the earned income tax credit or unemployment benefits and Social Security disability in the same year. ...
The “vocational grid” that defines which jobs are available in America has not been updated since the mid 1970s. Obviously, a few things have changed in the American economy since the ’70s, but the definition of employment used for disability has not changed. 
Many of these are potentially productive citizens who may have an additional challenge to employment, but they are not incapable of work.
Currently, disability attorneys are paid by Social Security offices around the country, not by the individuals who hire them. Disability attorneys take a portion of the disabled person’s check from them if they win the case, but the federal government is tasked to extract that fee from each individual and become the third party to every disability legal contract.
Why not allow the person who hired the attorney and signed the contract to also pay the bill? 
The incentive for the attorneys is to delay the case as long as possible, so their payment can extract the maximum amount from the disabled person’s check at the end. 
No law or regulation prevents a lawyer acting on behalf of a claimant from delaying a hearing by introducing new evidence moments before the hearing begins, effectively forcing the judge to put off the hearing. This prevents the claimant from getting benefits to which he or she may be entitled, but it ensures a bigger paycheck for the lawyer. That’s not how it works in a regular court, and that’s not how it should work for SSDI. ...


Anonymous said...

When attempting to introduce evidence the day of the hearing, ALJs have threatened to not approve my fee agreement. Not sure why this writer thinks attorneys have so much control over the process.

Dan Smith said...

While those who frequent this site know i CONSTANTLY harp on fellow reps who don't submit evidence ahead of ALJ hearings, I've never actually heard of reps purposely delaying a decision in order to increase backpay. The backpay fee structure is more of a disincentive against proactive and early advocacy than an incentive for stalling a case. (Yes, there is a distinction). Lankford is incorrect when he states that no law or regulation prevents this type of behaviour; it's clearly prohibited by any state's ethical code.

Also, Lankford's diatribe against the SSA's proccessing of fees makes his true motivations pretty transparent. SSA is already calculating backpayments. Is it that much harder to calculate a simple percentage of said backpayment? Clearly he just wants to unneccessarily shoulder reps with the responsibilities of debt collection and make the field less appealing to reps. Which is ridiculous because there are plenty of simple reforms that could be put in place that would accomplish his clandestine purpose and also further overall fairness and efficiency. (Maximum cap on IA fees/penalties for late submissions)

Anonymous said...

Nobody increases delay to increase backpay.

The goal is to get the claim paid, not to generate unfavorable decisions that have a value of $0.

A rep's utopia is no hearings and 100% OTR decisions.

Anonymous said...

all reasonable ideas.

Anonymous said...

Considering the esteemed Senator doesn't seem to properly explain what the grids are, I'm not sure how seriously he has studied the issues.

Anonymous said...

Lankford also conveniently neglects to say that SS charges a $91 user fee on each check they send out to reps.

And yes I am pretty sure every rep wants every case paid yesterday. The existing SS hearing backlogs render any conspiracy theory argument that reps try to delay hearings further specious.

Anonymous said...

He's also totally wrong about the Senate's report. He said, "... a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee report titled 'Social Security Disability Programs: Improving the Quality of Benefit Award Decisions' concluded that a shocking one-quarter of all disability insurance claim decisions were flawed, improperly addressing 'insufficient, contradictory, and incomplete evidence, thus increasing the chances of rewarding nondisabled persons.'"

That's not what the report said. It looked at 300 case and found, of those, they were flawed, not all decisions. Also, his quote: "thus increasing the chances of rewarding nondisabled persons," never appears in the report. It might be an editing error from The Hill, but it's not there.

It's really a terrible op-ed, but The Hill will print anything.

Anonymous said...

He wants to revamp the system, in part, "Because a government watchdog group had reason to believe that yet another lawyer and/or doctor was involved in Social Security fraud."

His failure to suggest actually pursuing the lawyer (i.e. Conn) involved, and instead suggesting to change the entire system, shows his true colors. He doesn't care about getting rid of these types of lawyers and doctors, he only wants to reduce what SSA pays out. If scapegoating all lawyers based on the actions of a few helps to achieve that result, well it appears Senator Lankford is all for it.