The War On The Disabled Starts

Congress is about to declare war on entitlements to cut government help for those in need so as to save money for those at the top of the income pyramid.  After all, with rising costs and no replacement for old tax cuts, revenue has to come from somewhere. 

It doesn’t help that “60 Minutes” a well watched and generally well regarded television news journal recently aired a misleading, one-sided view of Social Security benefits and those who receive them.

In handling ERISA claims we are so used to fighting insurance companies, that we take their one-sided tactics as a matter of course.  Those in the Social Security field may not be accustomed to the way the other side is going to fight to cut benefits to those in need.

The difference lies in the nature of the different practices.  In Social Security, claims are tried before impartial SSA judges who are selected for their ability to make unprejudiced judgments about disabilities.  They have no axe to grind and are paid by the Government, not a private business interested in making profits.

On the other hand, ERISA plans are usually administered by people closely affiliated with insurance companies.  Many times their livelihood depends on these same insurance companies who are definitely interested in making profits.  So, plan administrators  pay out as few benefit dollars as possible.  Every dollar saved goes right to the insurer’s bottom line.

ERISA lawyers are accustomed to plan administrator’s leaning heavily in favor of employers (and their insurance companies) in making benefits decisions.  So, you learn to fight their tactics as hard as you can to give clients a chance at success.  Social Security advocates, used to much more impartial judges, may have difficulty in doing this. 

Be sure, this fight is going to be “down and dirty”.  There are elements in Congress that won’t believe people truly get sick or get hurt, some so badly that they legitimately can’t work anymore.  They look at each recipient as a “moocher”, freeloading at the public trough. 

These elements ignore the fact that studies have shown that fraud rates are low and that benefits are far from generous.  “60 Minutes” helped paint SSDI unfairly as wasteful and loaded with abuse.

These are some of the facts “60 Minutes” omitted from its report:

  • SSDI fraud is less than 1% in its disability program.
  • Application rates have risen, but award rates have declined.
  • Retirement age has risen from 65 to 67 meaning that those on SSDI remain on it longer before being eligible to switch to retirement benefits.
  • One in five male and one in six female SSDI recipients die within 5 years of first receiving benefits.  (Does this sound like “fakery)?
  • The average SSDI benefit is just above $1,130 a month, about $35 a day.  Try living on that for a while.

In 1994, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund was predicted to face the problem it faces in 2016.  Historically, Congress has 10 times reallocated funds between retirement and disability accounts because of demographic changes, without a problem.  It could now do so again, insuring that both funds would remain solvent until 2033.

But, will this Congress do it?  Not very likely.

This Congress is more likely to vilify and blame the people relying on $35 a day to live, than it is to fix a problem which an easily be fixed.

What has happened to America?