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Trump administration proposes rule change to disability benefits

On Behalf of | Jan 8, 2020 | Guardianships & Conservatorships |

Many people with disabilities rely on Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, federal benefit programs that the Social Security Administration (SSA) administers. SSDI and SSI are financial lifelines for many people unable to work because of their disabilities.

About 8 million people get SSI, while approximately 8.5 million receive SSDI, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

SSA wants to review cases more often

Many advocates for those with disabilities are concerned about proposed regulation changes that, if approved, could result in potentially thousands of people losing their benefits. Under the Trump administration, the SSA proposes increasing the frequency with which the agency reviews each beneficiary’s medical condition to see whether it has improved enough that the person could return to work. This process is called a “continuing disability review.”

If the SSA decides that the person is no longer disabled from working, the agency will terminate benefits. At that point, the claimant may appeal that decision. While it is possible to get a termination reversed on review, it can take significant effort to fight it.

Medical review categories

Currently, the agency places people into one of these review categories:

  • Medical improvement not expected, or MINE: Review five to seven years
  • Medical improvement expected, or MIE: Review six to 18 months
  • Medical improvement possible, or MIP: Review at least every three years

The proposal would increase the frequency of review for the MIE category and create a new category called Medical improvement likely, or MIL, which would be subject to a two-year review frequency. Those in this group of about 4.4 million recipients would include disabled children and a group of disabled recipients who are usually of older age with little education or vocational skills – an especially vulnerable group.

Public skepticism

Some critical of the proposal say that these people, in particular, are not likely to improve. The Hill quotes U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pennsylvania, as expressing concern that the proposal “seem[s] arbitrary … with no evidence or data to justify such consequential modifications.”

The Inquirer cites attorney Jonathan Stein for his suspicion that the SSA is really trying to make it difficult for these older beneficiaries to follow through with the review requirements – which will result in them losing benefits not for medical improvement, but for inability to adhere to complicated procedures.

Public comment period extended

Normally, when a federal agency proposes a rule change, it must issue a comment period for the public to submit comments on the proposal. In this case, the SSA has extended until Jan. 31, 2020, the comment period for these proposed changes.