Three Republicans, Senators Cotton of Arkansas and Lee of Utah, along with Representative Hill of Arkansas have proposed significant changes to the Social Security disability program. Their SSDI Return to Work Act, H.R. 5409, would introduce major changes into the system.
A New System For Categorizing The Disabled
HR 5409 would require Social Security to classify the disabled into four groups. These are based on how likely the disabled are to medically improve enough to return to work. The categories range from medical improvement expected down to medical improvement not expected. In between is medical improvement likely and medical improvement possible.
Automatic Cutoff Dates For Some
After SSA classifies the disabled into one of these four groups, different rules would apply. If you are in the medical improvement expected category, Social Security is going to cut off your benefits after two years. For those in the medical improvement likely camp, you will see your benefits end after five years.
HR 5409 would also mandate more continuing disability reviews (CDR's). This is where Social Security inquires to see if a person is still disabled. Even if Social Security classifies you as medical improvement not expected (permanent, irreversible structural or functional loss, and for which there is no known effective therapy, treatment, or surgical intervention) they are still going to check in on you in ten years. HR 5409 would provide additional funding to CDR's.
More Stick Than Carrot
The carrot for this stick is that Social Security would allow those people classified as either Medical Improvement Expected or Medical Improvement Likely to return to work. If you earn up to about $1,100 a month, you can keep your disability benefits. Make more than that, however, and Social Security will reduce your monthly check by 50%.
Those persons who lost their benefits at either 2 or 5 years, would have the right to reapply. But, be wary. You have to reapply no later than 6 months before Social Security terminates your benefits. If you did work while getting benefits, Social Security will take that as evidence you are not disabled. But, the fact that Social Security previously found you to be disabled shall "have no evidentiary weight."
How Do I Hate Thee? Let Me Count The Ways
So, how many ways can you see that this is a terrible idea? I'll go first:
1. Unless Social Security has a crystal ball, how can they tell which of four categories a person falls into?
2. Medical improvement possible? It's possible I will win the lottery, but I am not going to make policy decisions on that basis.
3. Social Security is hopelessly behind on current disability applications. How are they supposed to handle the crush of reapplications, some of which will be a mere 18 months after Social Security first found a person disabled?
4. There appears to be no provision to allow people to keep getting their benefits while Social Security considers their reapplications. What happens to the disabled during the years it will take Social Security to consider their reapplications?
5. How to justify a CDR on a person whom Social Security has already said has no chance of improvement?
6. Why would a disabled person go back to work when Social Security will use that fact as evidence against him when he is forced to reapply for the benefits he is already receiving? If anything, this would encourage disabled people not to go back to work.
7. In a time when people are literally dying waiting to get Social Security benefits, how can Congress spend more money on CDR's? Where is the money to speed up the application process?
8. Social Security already has programs in place to encourage the disabled to return to work. They also have a robust system for doing CDR's. So, what is the point of this new plan? Could there be an ulterior motive at work?
Beware of Republicans Bearing Gifts
Whenever you hear politicians, particularly Republicans, proposing to "improve" Social Security, you should be worried. HR 5409 is a terrible idea that needs to be snuffed out. Call your member of Congress today and tell him or her that you are opposed to HR 5409.
As always, I welcome your comments.