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Debt deal allows for more disability benefit reviews

The debt deal created and signed into law at the beginning of the week, will not cap the Social Security Administration's ability to conduct continuing eligibility reviews on those who received Social Security Disability Insurance. The debt deal created an exemption to spending caps in order to allow the agency to conduct more reviews and an increased number of reviews may lead to cost savings for the agency.

Continuing eligibility reviews are conducted to determine whether current disability beneficiaries are still eligible to receive benefits from Social Security Disability. Over the last decade continuing eligibility reviews of disability benefits have decreased significantly because of a lack of funding. There is presently a backlog of 1.4 million reviews and increased reviews could save Social Security Disability money. Spending reductions and cost savings have been go-to words during the debt limit talks and will likely remain in Washington's vocabulary in the near future.

Current disability beneficiaries selected to participate in the review process can be asked to provide current medical records and to visit a doctor. Beneficiaries can lose their disability benefits if the review process shows they no longer qualify.

The number of reviews has dropped as the number of Social Security Disability beneficiaries increased over the last few years. In 2002, the agency conducted around 850,000 continuing disability reviews, but in 2007 the agency only conducted 200,000. In 2001 there were almost 7 million people receiving disability benefits. By 2007 that number was 10.4 million.

According to a recent report authored by the Social Security Administration around 12 percent of beneficiaries lose their assistance. The agency also estimates that for every one dollar spent on reviews, the federal government saves $10 in Social Security healthcare costs. The debt agreement does not provide for new funding but does allow Congress to budget new review funding not subject to spending limits.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Deal clears path to more disability reviews," Damian Paletta, Aug. 3, 2011

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