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Chicago Tribune Gets Disability Wrong

April 6th, 2013 · No Comments · Blog, Featured Home Page Post

Tribune_ImageBelow is a letter to the editor that I submitted to the Chicago Tribune on April 5, 2013 in response to its editorialDisability insurance, out of control.” It was published in the Local Voices section online and in some zoned sections of Chicagoland Health and Family on April 17, 2013. 

I write to disagree with the views expressed by the Tribune editorial board in its April 4, 2013 editorial — Disability insurance, out of control. The Tribune wrongly asserts that the Social Security disability program is out of control, with numbers of recipients ballooning due to easy disability standards and fraud.

Indeed, Stephen Goss, the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, attributes the rise in the number of disability recipients on the aging baby boomer workforce as well as the increasing number of women who have entered the workforce, and he projects the number of recipients to plateau as baby boomers hit their retirement years.

The Tribune argues that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has negated the need for disability benefits. While the ADA has helped many people with disabilities remain employed it does not protect those who are unable to do any work. The Tribune also states that medical improvements have decreased need for disability. But, a significant percentage of American workers remain uninsured. Medical advances cannot help them stay in the job market.
The Tribune misses the mark when it states that people improperly found disabled due to pain and mental illness. This is simply not true. Social Security regulations regarding consideration of pain and other symptoms are strict, requiring medical proof of a condition that causes such symptoms. Social Security denies disability to people “claiming … sad feelings or pain” unless those conditions are corroborated by objective medical evidence. Most persons alleging pain and depression are denied Social Security disability.

The Tribune also errs in claiming that the disability rules are now easier to meet than they once were. Granted, the disability denial rates in the early 1980′s were extremely low. However, those low rates reflected overly-restrictive application of Social Security disability rules. In response to appeal court decisions finding that Social Security applied the disability standard more restrictively than Congress had intended, Congress amended the Social Security Act to make clear how Social Security should evaluate such claims. That correction, leading to a higher disability allowance rate, was not the result of easing of the disability standard. Rather, it resulted from lawful application of the standard passed by Congress in the first place.

We do agree with the Tribune’s position that Social Security should timely review existing disability claims to make sure that the recipients are still disabled. To do that, the Social Security Administration needs adequate funding to do disability reviews — funding that it is not currently receiving.

The Social Security disability program rules are not too strict. Making the rules stricter will deny needed help to workers who find themselves no longer able to work due to a medical impairment. Instead, the Tribune should support increased funding for Social Security to allow it to do its work, including doing continuing reviews of existing disability recipients to ensure they are still disabled.

Thomas D. Yates, Health & Disability Advocates

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