Fourth in a five part series – previous article – Identifying Who Is Disabled
Editor – President Obama’s discussion of disability reform usually becomes reduced to a discussion of fraud. This five part series from the New York Times, looks at the issues from the viewpoint of experts.
Federal Money, State Control
Tim Moore is a former disability claims examiner in North Carolina, which is part of the Social Security Administration’s Atlanta region. He publishes a Social Security Disability Blog that provides information on how the system works.
I’m a former disability examiner who worked for North Carolina disability determination services. Fraud, from my perspective, seems to be a politically convenient target. However, it occurs in a very, very small percentage of cases.
One big problem:State furloughs of disability examiners when case loads are already too high.
The disability system really faces bigger much problems than fraud. For instance, the bifurcated nature of the claims processing system. Though the disability benefits are paid by the federal government, they are processed in a system that involves both federal and state agencies. The salaries of disability examiners are paid by the federal government, but they are state employees. In this recession, some states are furloughing these workers, too.
The impact, of course, is obvious. It takes a system that is already overstressed with too many cases to process and slows it down even more. For many individuals who are disabled and need help, the delay in having decisions made on their claims means bankruptcy or foreclosure.
Another problem, as I see it, is the lack of consistency in how cases are evaluated. If you take a claimant’s case to two separate processing units in a state agency, you may, at times, get two different outcomes. This is because there’s a lot of subjective evaluation that exists in the current system. There are large differences in approval rates between various states, not to mention differences between approval rates at the state agencies and later at the disability hearing level where an administrative law judge makes the decision on the claim.
Federalizing the system and enforcing more discipline would probably help, as would better medical information training for examiners who often know little about the impairments they evaluate, like the functional limitations that result from pain.
Next article – It’s the System, Not the Individual