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Are SSA's efforts to reduce SSD backlog helping or hurting? (1)

Throughout the history of this blog (and as recently as last week), we have written about the continually increasing backlog of Social Security Disability application appeals, and about the growing frustration among applicants who are forced to wait longer to have their applications reviewed. Certainly, SSA officials are aware of this troubling trend, and they have attempted to come up with a solution to the ongoing problem. But in recent months, many agency employees have expressed their belief that the remedies proposed by SSA officials are doing more harm than good.

Earlier this year, SSA officials in Baltimore, Maryland gathered over 100 agency doctors to share one seemingly simple message. Because of the growing number of Social Security Disability applicants, doctors would have to start moving cases through the application process more quickly. However, this also came with caveats: instead of making $90 per hour for disability reviews, doctors would now make $80. In addition, they would now be required to take all cases assigned to them, even if they didn't fall within the doctor's specialty.

Many agency doctors were upset about the agency's decision to do away with specialization and protested the change. As a result, about 45 of the 140 doctors that attended that meeting have either quit or been fired following the implementation of the changes. Dr. Neil Novin, who had conducted disability reviews for SSD for about 10 years before quitting in August, said that he was pressured by a supervisor to grant SSD benefits to applicants who did not qualify. "People who shouldn't be getting [disability] are getting it, and people who should be getting it aren't," he told a reporter from the Wall Street Journal.

While these changes only currently apply to Baltimore residents, the new policies and procedures are likely to affect SSD applicants in Los Angeles and throughout the U.S. This is because the Baltimore SSA office is considered the flagship and model for other offices in the country, and what is perceived to work there may be tried elsewhere.

We will continue our discussion of this topic later this week by examining the potential dangers of the lack of doctor specialization in disability reviews.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Doctors Question Disability Decisions As Agency Moves To Speed Up Process," Damian Paletta, Nov. 21, 2011

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