About one year ago, CBS News did an interview with the Commissioner of Social Security, Michael Astrue. CBS wanted to know why so many applicants waited so long to get a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge.
Commissioner Astrue says the right things and seems to be dedicated to decreasing the time it takes to get a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. However, the backlogs of applicants waiting for a hearing and the time it takes to schedule a hearing have not significantly changed.The thing that disappointed me most about what the Commissioner said came during his discussion of the over one million people who applied, were turned down, and did not appeal. He seemed to suggest that those people never should have applied in the first place. It almost looks he never thought before that the people who gave up did so because they were frustrated with the process and were actually deserving applicants.
According to Government Health IT, the Social Security Administration is considering new programs that would allow its Disability Determination Services to gather medical records electronically. Right now, the disability determinations are made from paper records provided by doctors and hospitals. The story indicates that this is a huge expense to the government – costing over $500 million a year. The Social Security Administration is proposing several programs that would incorporate available technology to make gathering records quicker and less expensive.
This is something that has been in the works for years. Social Security has initiated several programs over the last several years that make the process quicker. Claimants can submit new evidence online and have video hearings (where the claimant is in one office and the Administrative Law Judge is hundreds of miles away). Most law firms that practice this type of law have been investing heavily in the technology and equipment necessary to gather and submit records quickly and efficiently. Oxner + Permar, with offices all over the state of North Carolina, is doing amazing things with technology. Our Social Security practice, for instance, is almost completely digital and paperless.
The New York Times has recently reported that UnitedHealth may soon be offering a new insurance product for those people concerned about losing their health insurance. The new policy will allow current customers who have UnitedHealth coverage to pay an extra twenty percent of their monthly premium in order to guarantee their right to buy health insurance in the future.
Most people in the United States receive health insurance as a benefit of their employment. Once these people lose their jobs (not hard to imagine considering the current economic times), they often lose their health insurance. Options exist, such as Cobra coverage or individual coverage. These options are usually expensive – especially if they are unemployed. Individuals on Social Security disability are eligible for Medicare after two years, but there are few good options during this time period. Most companies have rules that allow them to avoid paying for costly pre-existing conditions.
There are still not too many details about these programs. However, it is an interesting concept for people who are approaching the end of their working days and know they will not be able to cover themselves as individuals once they start working. If the new Presidential Administration really tackles healthcare reform, then new products like the one being considered by UnitedHealth may be unnecessary.
One of the most common types of disability I see is spinal disc injury (it is also a common workers’ compensation injury). Many clients have had different types of spinal procedures designed to lessen back pain or nerve pain that radiates into arms or legs because the discs between the vertebrae impinge on the spinal cord. The below animation shows what a herniated disc looks like and what a fusion procedure might look like:
One of the interesting things about this video is the ending where it is revealed patients should not lift over ten pounds soon after undergoing this type of procedure. Administrative Law Judges often do not understand why claimants with this disability do not return to work performing work that requires significant lifting or bending, stooping, and squatting. Claimants needs to be able to explain how their range of motion or flexibility is affected by a procedure like this.