Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Social Security Administration (SSA), frustrated by the backlog of applications for disability benefits, started pressuring the 140 doctors the agency uses to help evaluate some of the claims. In an effort to encourage the quick processing of claims doctors were paid a flat rate of $80/case in stead of the previous $90/hour to review the cases. Many times these cases have hundreds of pages of records to be reviewed and can turn on a few sentences.
In this setting it’s every more important to seek the help of a treating physician in offering a supportive report.
Also, doctors were assigned to evaluate conditions that were not in their areas of expertise. One of the more interesting quotes came from Neil Novin, former chief of surgery at Baltimore’s Harbor Hospital, who worked for Social Security part time for about 10 years. He said “People who shouldn’t be getting [disability] are getting it, and people who should be getting it aren’t getting it”.
In my experience this has always been the case, but now, with agency doctors being pressured to evaluate these cases quicker, we’ll likely see less competent and thorough evaluations. This in turn will lead to longer delays, more cases waiting for a hearing and more money spent to evaluate more cases by administrative personnel within the SSA.
Although I’ve never thought the agency doctors do a good job evaluating these cases, the situation will get worse now that 1/3 of the 140 doctors have either quit or been fired over this shift in philosophy. In this setting it’s every more important to seek the help of a treating physician in offering a supportive report.