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Are SSA's efforts to reduce SSD backlog helping or hurting? (2)

Earlier this week, we wrote about the Social Security Administration office in Baltimore, Maryland, which recently lost about one-third of its disability reviewers after agency officials essentially instructed doctors to work faster for less money. Although that was likely difficult to stomach, the tipping point for most of the doctors who quit or were fired for failing to comply with the new procedures was the fact they would be forced to make decisions about applicants with disabilities or ailments with which they were completely unfamiliar.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the requirement of generalization meant that Social Security Disability applicants were having their reviews conducted by doctors who were not trained to do so. For example, an eye doctor reviewed an application from someone suffering from back pain, and a dermatologist conducted a review for someone who had a stroke.

As pointed out by a top SSA official, all of the doctors who conduct reviews have attended medical school and are board certified to practice medicine. But that fact provides little reassurance for the SSD applicant who is having his case decided by a doctor who has not received any formal training on the particular ailment in several decades.

The WSJ report discusses one applicant who was unable to work after being diagnosed with a nerve disorder. His case was reviewed by a retired pediatrician, and his application was denied. Two years later, when his appeal was finally heard, the administrative law judge reversed the denial and granted his benefits on the spot. But for those unnecessary two years when he was unable to work and receiving no benefits, his family was forced to go on food stamps and had their cars repossessed.

We will continue our discussion of this topic next week with a look at the SSA's response to criticism from both doctors and SSD applicants.

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

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