Administration has recently implemented changes to their Social Security Disability Income application process, including the reinstatement of the reconsideration step in the claim application process in five states, with Louisiana among them.
“What people basically need to know is that starting January 1, Louisiana applicants see a new step in the process of filing for SSDI,” said Mike Stein, assistant vice president of Operations Strategy and Planning with Allsup, an organization that helps claim applicants navigate the process.
“Reconsideration takes places after an initial application has been denied, which happens in two out of every three claims. For the 13 percent of people who get accepted after reconsideration, this step saves them time and saves the government money. The other 87 percent of applicants will continue to the appeal process, so reconsideration effectively adds three to six months processing time to their claim,” Stein said.
Part of FICA taxes workers pay each year funds SSDI benefits, as sort of a long term insurance program for workers who become injured beyond their ability to continue working.
“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the program,” Stein said. “People think it’s easy to get on and the government just gives away money, but it’s actually a very stringent program. It’s only open to people who have paid in through their taxes and have been injured in a serious and long term way. So, most of our clients are people who have been dealt some of the worst hands anyone can be dealt, from a medical standpoint.”
After a worker is injured and files a claim with the SSA, an initial determination is made after four to six months, with about 34 percent of claims approved on average. For nearly twenty years, Louisiana claimants moved from an initial rejection into an appeal process, held before a judge, with wait times that currently average around 450 days. Rejected claims filed after January 1 will now move into the reconsideration phase prior to an appeal process.
“Back in the late 90s, the SSA looked at the reality that only 13 percent of applications were accepted following reconsideration and decided to see if they could save money, or speed things up, by eliminating that step,” Stein said. “The Trump Administration now says it has research indicating it could result in a net savings to keep reconsideration.”
SSDI appeal hearings are expensive, requiring judges, vocational and medical experts and travel budgets.
“The Trump Administration says that 13 percent less appeal hearings could save money,” Stein said. “For the people who see their application granted during reconsideration, this will also save time. The vast majority of people will see additional time and paperwork as part of their SSDI claim process.”
There has been some controversy surrounding the introduction of the SSA’s new policy. During a congressional meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee last summer, several members objected to the reinstatement of the reconciliation process, and acting SSA commissioner Nancy Berryhill signed a letter along with eleven members of Congress arguing that “there is little evidence to show that reconsideration is a meaningful step in the disability appeals process.”
Despite some resistance to recent changes, the Trump Administration has nominated a new commissioner to head the agency – Andrew Saul – and plans to move forward.
“They have a roll out schedule in place and we can expect to see more changes in April and October, and well as early next year. These changes can make an already complex situation more confusing, and we just encourage people to hire someone knowledgeable to try and shorten what will already be a long time without income after an injury,” Stein said.
28th January 2019
By Meghan Holmes
The Social Security