Feds Focus on Accuracy in Social Security Reform Hearing

February 17,2009
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Social Security Reform Hearing

Our elected officials in Washington, D.C. recently held the second in a series of hearings aimed at strengthening the Social Security disability system, this one focused on increasing accuracy in determining who is and who is not eligible for benefits.
“For every one tenth of one percent Social Security improves its payment accuracy, it can pay disability benefits for a full year to close to 5,300 people,” said Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security. “That’s real money for those who can’t work and who count on these benefits to keep a roof over their head and food on the table.”
Titled “Securing the Future of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Program,” the hearings are intended to consider the “current and future financing challenges” of the Social Security Disability Insurance benefits program, under which the federal government generally provides benefits to persons who are unable to work for a year or more due to a physical or mental impairment. Last year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) paid $130 billion in disability benefits.
As the federal deficit has soared in recent years, however, Social Security (as well as other programs like Medicare and Medicaid) has come under fire from lawmakers looking to cut costs. According to Johnson, disability program costs have soared from $18 billion to $124 billion over the last 40 years as the number of those receiving benefits has more than tripled from 2.7 to 9.7 million. The Social Security Board of Trustees recently announced that it expects that the combined assets funding the Social Security retirement and disability benefits programs – the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds – will run out of money by 2036.
Some politicians have called on the government to raise the minimum age for individuals to be eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits, while others say the entire system should be scrapped in favor of private investment accounts. For his part, Johnson says that the government can cut the costs associated with the Social Security disability program by simply improving the accuracy of the disability claim process. “The best way to protect the disability program is to prevent fraud before it occurs,” he said in an opening statement before the Jan. 24 hearing.

Specifically, Johnson pointed to continuing disability reviews – periodic reevaluations to determine if beneficiaries are still disabled – and the Cooperative Disability Investigation (CDI) program, a task forces linking the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General and local law enforcement to detect fraudulent claims, as two areas in which the federal government should continue to invest in order to ensure accuracy.
As experienced Social Security disability attorneys with a combined 50-plus years of experience representing clients in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we absolutely agree that the government should strive to ensure accuracy in disability proceedings. But accuracy in disability determinations goes both ways; In addition to cutting down payments to persons who obtain benefits fraudulently or who experience improvement and thus later become ineligible, the SSA should also make efforts to ensure that it streamlines the claims process to ensure that eligible claimants’ files are processed quickly and properly and that those who are eligible are approved without having to wait for years for that approval.