Upcoming Changes to Continuing Disability Review Could Have Disastrous Results

On November 18, 2019 the Social Security Administration published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking reducing the time between many Continuing Disability Reviews from three years to two years. According to a New York Times opinion piece from Jonathan M. Stein, a former legal aid lawyer, this could have disastrous results for individuals receiving disability benefits. 

First, a short summary of the proposed change. Currently, Social Security has three classifications for disability cases depending on whether medical improvement is “expected,” “possible,” or “not expected.” These categories all have periodic reviews. Medical Improvement Expected (“MIE”) cases are reviewed every six to eighteen months, Medical Improvement Possible (“MIP”) cases are reviewed every three years, and Medical Improvement Not Expected (“MINE”)  cases are reviewed every five to seven years. This rule would add a new category, Medical Improvement Likely (“MIL”) which would be reviewed every two years. The MIL category would include most forms of cancer, all cases of “anxiety,” and all approvals based on the “inability to adjust to other work.” This last category of cases is by far the most common reason for being found disabled. It is widely expected that most MIP cases would become MIL cases, effectively shorting the time for review from three years to two for most claimants.

Mr. Stein’s article recalls that from 1981 to 1984 the Social Security Administration terminated benefits for nearly half a million beneficiaries. A rule change back then resulted in a sharp increase in Continuing Disability Reviews, from an expected 150,000 to 562,000. This new plan would increase reviews from 2020 to 2029 by 1.5 million total cases. While far less than the increase in the 1980s, the results will no doubt be just as devastating for beneficiaries unjustly terminated.

Continuing Disability Reviews can result in disability beneficiaries losing their benefits after years or even decades receiving disability benefits. A termination notice can be shocking and often lead to hardship. According to a 1982 article in the New York Times, Federal officials even acknowledged suicides had resulted from terminations of benefits. Eventually, public outcry put a stop to Reagan-era terminations by unanimous votes of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Unless the Social Security Administration changes its mind about this rule change, we may see a tragic repeat of the mistakes of the 1980s. 

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