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Social Security Rule Change Would Harm Older Adults with Disabling Conditions

Last week, the Medicare Rights Center submitted comments in opposition to a proposed rule from the Social Security Administration (SSA) that would harm people with disabilities, especially people who are approaching age 65. The proposal would make the current problems in the SSA determination and review system even worse and put up additional barriers for people who already spend years trying to access the benefits they need because of their physical or mental conditions.

Currently, everyone who receives disability benefits from two federal programs, the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI) or the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI), is put into one of three categories based on SSA’s judgment of their likelihood to have medical improvement that will make them no longer qualify as disabled. How an individual is categorized is very important as it controls how often SSA will review their files and require them to submit information or undergo medical examinations to show that their disabilities are ongoing. While a person’s physical or mental condition is by far the most important factor, some of this likelihood is currently also based on the individual’s age and education, both of which can influence how employable they are in the national workforce.

When SSA believes an individual has a very good chance of medical improvement, they are placed in a category that is subject to review every 6-18 months. People SSA categorize as having little to no chance of medical improvement are subject to review every 5-7 years. Those SSA places in the middle category are reviewed every three years.

SSA is proposing to create a new category that would be reviewed every two years and to shift many older adults out of the 5-7 year category and into this new category. This would mean many more cycles of review for individuals who have little likelihood of being able to find work based on their combination of physical or mental conditions, age, and education.

At Medicare Rights, we recognize that some people do see medical improvement once they are receiving SSDI or SSI benefits. However, we cannot support this move to create more burdens for people who need the stability of these programs and access to care. The current system forces applicants to wait for months or years to gain benefits, with innumerable forms and burdensome medical documentation requirements. This rule change would only create more delays and more burdens, and would likely result in more people losing their disability benefits for failure to meet unnecessary and punitive bureaucratic hurdles. We urge SSA to withdraw this rule in its entirety.

Read Medicare Rights’ comments.

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