Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Republicans attack SSD on basis of out of control claim growth...but claims are going down.

Certain members of Congress are setting the stage to attack the Social Security Disability program, based partly on the premise that claims are continuing to rise. However, this graphic provided by attorney Charles Hall shows that really isn't the case. The number of claims filed has been decreasing since 2011.

Why is this happening? It's impossible to know. However, its a well-known fact that in times of severe economic dislocation (such as the last stock market crash and the great recession that followed), a small percentage of people who lose employment and who have serious medical issues--which their past employer accommodated them on--seek disability benefits on a short-term basis.

SSA does not offer short-term disability, but quite a few people do not understand this (which is itself understandable since short-term disability plans do exist and are offered by some employers).

Lower claims being filed may point to a healthier economy. But it may also deflate the conservative argument that the disability program is growing too fast. In fact, many sources verify that changes in the nation's demographics (a larger percentage of people in their 50's and 60's) accounts for many of the claims that SSA should expect to see now and in the future.

Disability claims decreasing

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There are days when everyone thinks they have it rough. And perhaps they really do. But, then, you read a story like this and you feel thankful what you do have.

From the article:

"Martin Pistorius spent more than a decade unable to move or communicate, fearing he would be alone, trapped, forever."

Trapped In His Body For 12 Years, A Man Breaks Free

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Better ways of tracking glucose levels for type II diabetics

If you have type II diabetes, this tattoo seen in the article linked below--and the technology that it signals might possibly be around the corner--is a potential game changer. Perhaps in the near future, type II diabetics will have no further need of test strips, lancets, and tiny pinprick holes in their fingers.

Diabetes Monitoring Tattoo Developed to Provide Relief from Needle Pricks

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Social Security Disability Beneficiaries facing potential 20 percent cuts in monthly benefits

The Social Security Disability Trust fund is expected to run short of its ability to meet its obligations in 2016. If Congress doesn't address the problem, individuals who currently receive Social Security Disability benefits may face a 20 percent cut in their monthly benefits.

So far, there's hardly a peep out of Congress about this rapidly approaching issue. And, increasingly, it looks like this may be another round of political hardball between republicans and the current White House administration.

What members of Congress should keep in mind, however, is that, unlike SSI, Social Security Disability is a program for which recipients have paid into the system through deductions taken out of their paychecks. From the point of view of disability beneficiaries, and rightly so, they are receiving an earned benefit. They worked, paid their taxes, and are now receiving benefits to which they are entitled as a result of becoming disabled.

Congressional Republicans who choose to take advantage of the impending situation as a virtual hostage (i.e. letting SSD beneficiaries face a drastic 20 percent cut in monthly benefits unless unless certain political demands are not met) may find themselves making a terrible calculation for several reasons:

1. Even the appearance of choosing political maneuvering over people's financial stability and well-being just doesn't sit well with most Americans.

2. SSD benefits are not welfare; they are an earned entitlement. They were paid for.

3. If SSD beneficiaries have their benefits cut, it will negatively affect not only them, but their families as well.

For quite a few years now, Congressional Republicans have pointed t to the increase in disability claims as proof that something is wrong with the program. They insinuate that the process is too easy, that judges are too lenient, and that the system over-awards benefits. However, if you were to survey a thousand people who had actually gone through the process of applying for disability, they would tell you that the process is long and difficult, their claims were routinely denied despite solid medical evidence, and that judges are typically anything but rubber stampers.

With all this in mind, I have wondered when it was that AARP would choose to get involved. Their membership is comprised of retired Americans; however, some of those individuals have physical and mental impairments that are disabling and many recognize that based on their age and limitations, becoming disabled as a result of an injury or illness is not an improbable scenario.

Recently, AARP sent a letter to Senators Ron Wyden and Orrin Hatch, respectively the Chairman and Ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance. Here are two excerpts:

"...the highest priority in the near term is to ensure that SSDI beneficiaries -- most of whom are older Americans -- are not at risk of a 20% benefit cut in the very near future."

"...interest income specified for the DI program is sufficient to support 80 percent of program cost after trust fund depletion in 2016, increasing slightly to 81% of program cost in 2087." CBO maintains similar projections."

"Many experts, including the Congressional Budget Office, have estimated the shortfall is largely due to: 1) general population growth, 2) women’s entrance into the labor force and consequent eligibility for SSDI benefits, 3) the increase in the Social Security normal retirement age from 65 to 67, and 4) the aging of the Baby Boom population leading to a higher percentage of older people vulnerable to illness and disability. All of these factors also contribute to other challenges in the SSDI program."

In other words, the Social Security Disability program is facing a shortfall due largely to demographic changes. In addition to the workforce getting wider, America is getting older and grayer. And people, as they get older, tend to have a higher chance of becoming sick or injured. It is a simple fact of life. The program is not facing shortfalls, as the Republicans have falsely impugned, because large numbers of Americans are choosing to pursue disability benefits versus seeking employment.

I don't know what the effect of this letter may be. And I don't what else we may hear from AARP on this issue as we draw nearer to 2016. However, I think certain members of Congress should choose to do what is right and guarantee that Americans who have paid into the system and are now collecting the disability benefits that they have earned continue to receive them in full. I certainly don't recall members of Congress volunteering any cuts in their own extensive package of benefits, which are cadillac-level by anyone's estimation.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

More links between artificial sweeteners heavily used in diet soda and Diabetes

My ears perked up when I heard this (literally, because I first heard this on an NPR podcast). I vividly remember when diet soft drinks first came out. Diet coke, in particular, tasted like slightly watered down battery acid. But people were actually excited that they could drink diet versions of sodas while skipping the calories. Individuals with type II diabetes were appreciative of the opportunity to drink soft drinks minus the 60 grams of sugar usually contained in each can or bottle. Reducing sugar intake, of course, is a must for someone with diabetes.

It all seemed to good to be true. Perhaps it was.

Over the past few years, we've seen studies indicating that something wasn't quite right. Nutritionists never quite knew what the issue with diet soft drinks really was, but they speculated that the artificial sweeteners used in them increased a person's desire to consume sweet tasting foods leading to weight gain. They further posited that the sweeteners functioned as excitotoxins, basically tricking the body's insulin response to activate. Too much insulin production, as we know, can wear out pancreatic beta cells and also result in insulin resistance.

Finally, there's no denying that despite the perceived advantages of diet soft drinks, practically concurrent with their introduction into the market place obesity has gone up sharply and type II diabetes has become a national pandemic.

This article provides some illumination as to why and I would encourage you to read it. It provides some insight regarding the use of artificial sweeteners, i.e. you might want to think twice. As for me...I drink a lot more water these days.

Low-calorie sweeteners found in diet drinks RAISE the risk of obesity and diabetes by affecting how the body processes sugar

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Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Get Social Security Benefits When You're Disabled

"How to Get Social Security Benefits When You're Disabled".

There's an article on Huffington Post with this title. Like most articles with this type of title (and like most articles on HuffPo period), its not very good.

Exhibit 1: "You generally will be eligible only if you have a health problem that is expected to prevent you from working in your current line of work (or any other line of work that you have been in over the past 15 years) for at least a year, or result in death."

Incorrect. The SSD and SSI system do take into account your past work. If you can't return to one of the jobs you've performed in the 15 year period (the relevant period) prior to becoming disabled, your case moves on to the next level of consideration in what is known as the sequential evaluation process (which assumes, of course, that you do not have a physical or mental impairment which satisfied the criteria of a listing in the SSA bluebook).

However, at this next level of consideration, the question is not whether you can perform any other type of work that you've done in that 15 year period (which is what the article states), but whether you can do any other type of work that you haven't done, so long as your medical and vocational factors do not rule out this work (those factors are your current residual functional capacity, i.e. your limitations, your age, your education, and your work skills).

If you are found by a judge at a hearing, or by a disability examiner on your disability application or on your reconsideration appeal, to be A) unable to do your past work and B) unable to switch to some of other work that you've haven't done before, you may be approved for SSD or SSI benefits.

Exhibit 2: "There is no such thing as a partial disability benefit. If you're fit enough to work part-time, your application will be denied. "

Incorrect. While there are not partial ongoing benefits, there are many individuals who work part-time and successfully file for disability. Also, there are many individuals who work part-time while they receive disability. In the SSD and SSI system, you are not allowed to work and earn more than what is known as the substantial gainful activity amount. This is a gross monthly earnings limit. Currently, the SGA amount is $1070. So, if you make more than that amount while filing, you will be denied on the basis of SGA. But that's not the same, clearly, as saying you cannot work, or work part-time, as the article states.

Why does Social Security allow you to work and receive disability benefits as long as you are under the SGA earnings limit in effect for the given year? Because...the point of the program is that people get assistance when they have limitations that prevent them from earning a living wage. And this is why people are allowed to work as long as they stay under the SGA limit.

There are those, of course, who erroneously conclude that because a person can work part-time they are no longer disabled (or never were). But, again, they are missing the point of the program. There are many people who can manage part-time work, but at a full-time level would experience too many difficulties which place them in danger of losing their job or being fired. In fact, it is a fairly frequent occurrence for a person to be approved for disability, only to find later, after a certain amount of time on the job, that they do not have the ability to fulfill the requirements of the job, due to physical limits, mental limits, pain, or any combination of these.

I should point out, of course, that many people who attack the Social Security Disability and SSI programs completely fail to understand how these programs work, and, also, how difficult it can be to qualify for benefits (usually, at least two appeals are necessary, the reconsideration and the hearing, and this appeals process consumes a significant amount of time).

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