The SSA recently released its annual performance report that evaluated its performance in 2015 and set new performance goals for 2016 and 2017. With regards to the Disability Program, the SSA states that its strategic goal is to “Serve the Public through a Stronger, More Responsive Disability Program.” What does this mean for claimants and claimant representatives?
Hire More Administrative Law Judges
Currently there are more than one million claimants waiting to have a hearing with an administrative law judge, more than anytime in history. The SSA plans to hire more ALJs to get the number under one million before the end of 2017. Thus, claimants should be getting approved for benefits quicker and representatives should be receiving their fees sooner as well. The average fee could be slightly lower due to the reduction in wait time, but receiving fees at a faster pace should greatly improve the cash flow of a disability firm.
Expand the Video Hearing Program
Of the 563,893 hearings that were held in 2015, 152,880 were video hearings (approximately 27%). The SSA is hoping to invest in technology to get the percentage of video hearings to well over 30%. Expansion of video hearings should greatly cut down on travel time for both claimants and representatives. With the decreased need to travel for hearings, attorneys and advocates should be able to expand the area from which they take cases and grow their practice.
Using Information Technology to Expedite Disability Decisions
In 2015, the SSA had IT partnerships with over 7,000 health providers to obtain health records electronically. The SSA obtained health records electronically for 6.1% of the initial disability claims. The SSA plans on increasing the number of partnerships with health providers in 2016 and 2017. This means that claimants and their representatives can expect the average processing time for initial disability claims to go down since the SSA will be able to get medical evidence easier. Similar to the goal of hiring more ALJs, this goal should reduce the overall processing time of a claim and help disability firms receive fees at a quicker pace.
Update Medical Listing of Impairments
The SSA plans to make revise and potentially expand the Blue Book Medical listings in 2016. Meeting a Blue Book listing is the most straightforward way that a claimant can meet the medical requirements for being approved for benefits. The updated listing should help improve the accuracy of disability decisions at all levels of the process. Disability firms that are discipline about the claims that they handle should see an increase in the percentage of claims that are being approved with a more accurate Blue Book, as not as many claimants will rely on an RFC evaluation to be approved for benefits.
These are just some of the SSA’s goals with relation to the disability program, you can find a full list of the goals here. If the SSA is successful in implementing these goals, claimants should have an easier time getting approved for benefits, whether by applying entirely online or using technology to submit their applications and medical records. These goals should also reduce the overall processing time of a disability claim and help ensure that those who are entitled to disability benefits get them sooner. If claimants get disability benefits sooner, that means attorneys and advocates will get paid sooner as well!