The U.S. Senate has commenced proposing reforms for the Social Security Disability Insurance Fund (SSDI), which is expected to become bankrupt in 2016. Disability spending has tripled since 1970 in comparison to the economy’s size. But it is the wrong course to propose cutting benefits to all disability beneficiaries. That will not resolve the fraud and abuse associated with numerous disability cases.
Disability claims and deficits skyrocketed after 1984 when Congress weakened qualification standards. At the beginning of the Obama administration in January 2009, there were 7.4 million disability beneficiaries and by 2014, 11.1 million. In the last decade disabled beneficiaries have increased 49.7 percent. The current annual cost of SSDI is $215 billion, which includes Medicare.
By 2011, more than 95 percent of disability claims were non-work related. The disability program was established for workers older than age 50, but 45 percent of claimants were younger than age 50. Youth in their 20s are filing disability claims for “back pain.” SSDI is now serving as unemployment insurance or welfare when it was intended to help people who were truthfully proven to be unable to work. Today’s easy access to disability contributes to the lowest labor force participation rate in 50 years, 62.7 percent.
A detailed sample survey conducted by the Social Security Administration in 2009 projected over 6 million disability recipients were capable of working. Many recipients responded they would not seek work because they did not want to lose their benefits. There are proven cases of disability recipients working “off record” but continuing to receive disability payments. A recent study found Social Security overpaid 4.5 million beneficiaries $17 billion over the last 10 years, of which $8.1 billion was reimbursed. Most payments went to those no longer disabled or who were working. Approximately 10 percent, $1.7 billion, was mistakenly paid to prisoners or the deceased.
According to the Social Security Administration’s latest data, 35.2 percent, or 3,599,417 recipients, have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, which is the largest “diagnostic group” of all disabled beneficiaries. The most common diagnosis for disabled beneficiaries with a mental disorder is a “mood disorder.” According to that report, as of
December 2013, 14 percent of all disabled beneficiaries in the United States had a mood disorder.
The states with the highest percentages of all recipients claiming mental disorders are Massachusetts and New Hampshire at 49.9 percent, followed by Rhode Island, Hawaii, Minnesota, Vermont, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. The states with the fewest claimed mental disorders are Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana – all below 30.3 percent.
“Musculoskeletal system and connective tissue” problems, which are largely attributed to joint or muscle pain, accounted for the second largest group of disabled beneficiaries. In December 2013, of the 10,228,364 disabled people receiving federal disability, 2,829,808, 27.7 percent, had been diagnosed with a musculoskeletal problem.
During a period in 2013, disability examinations increased one percent nationwide, but in California there was a 25 percent increase. This was attributed to the California Department of Social Services collaborating with private firms to move welfare recipients onto federal disability because their maximum time limit on welfare had expired.
In 2014, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. said on “60 Minutes” that his staff’s research discovered, up to 45 percent of disability recipients could be working, and many had never been to a doctor for their condition. “60 Minutes” highlighted the major cause of the problem as attorneys exerting control over the federal government by exploiting the disability system.
To make the necessary reforms, Congress needs to take these problems seriously. First, it must follow the lead of Great Britain, which required new medical exams for all disability recipients and resulted in one-third leaving the benefit. Congress should adopt strict disability requirements that disallow doctors and medical personnel from certifying dubious claims. Congress can no longer permit courts to set lenient disability standards that have led to fraudulent schemes. It is imperative for Congress to commence a “disability to work program” which will bolster America’s declining work ethic.
Many American people need to follow what previous generations did to support themselves. They worked any job available and migrated to other cities to find those jobs.
Hilton, a San Diego resident, is president of Taxpayer Revolution Foundation, which focuses on entitlement and immigration reforms.