The New Congress: A Look Ahead
The 113rd Congress has concluded its work, but not without some parting shots at the Social Security Disability program. On December 11, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced, S. 3003, the “Protecting Social Security Disability Act of 2014. https://www.congress.gov/113/bills/s3003/BILLS-113s3003is.pdf. Although Senator Coburn is retiring, it is very likely that this bill will be reintroduced in some form in the new Congress, with a new name and number. Some of the highlights of this bill include having a government representative at all ALJ hearings who can appeal favorable decisions to the Appeals Council, a requirement that representatives justify the fee they are authorized, scheduled CDRs based on the individual’s type of impairment, and use of symptom validity testing. We do not yet know the rosters of the Congressional Committees or Subcommittees, nor do we have definitive information about who will reintroduce the bill, or when. When this information becomes available, we will be ready to combat this legislation with help from NOSSCR members, especially those in the relevant Congressional districts.
On December 18, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform [Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chair] published a Staff Report entitled “Misplaced Priorities: How the Social Security Administration Sacrificed Quality for Quantity in the Disability Determination Process.” http://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/2014-12-18-Misplaced-Priorities.-How-SSA-Sacrificed-Quality-for-Quantity.pdf. The Report specifically attacks NOSSCR for submitting comments to the proposed regulation on evidence submission and for intervening when some ALJs violated procedural rules. It attacks representatives for being “compensated only if their clients are approved for disability benefits.” Among other concerns, this report reiterates the ALJs’ complaints that the production “quota” requires them to pay claims for individuals who are not disabled. This claim, which also forms the basis of AALJ v. Colvin, No. 14-1953 (7th Cir.), is currently pending in the Seventh Circuit where oral argument was held on December 9, 2014 (http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/sound/external/sk.14-1953.14-1953_12_09_2014.mp3). The ALJ union claims that the production quota prevents the ALJs from devoting a sufficient amount of time on each case. They allege that because approvals require less development and support (because they are less likely to be appealed), the ALJs are forced to issue more approvals than denials. It is hard, if not impossible, to reconcile this assertion with SSA’s data showing that the ALJ’s approved 63% of the 554,025 hearings held in 2009, but only 48% of the 629,337 in FY 2013. How do the ALJs support their argument that they have violated their oath of office by approving claims without sufficient development when the facts show that they are approving fewer claims each year? Representative Issa will not be Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the next Congress, but will likely be a member of the Committee. This Report sets the stage for more investigation next year. NOSSCR will be sending a response to this Staff Report.
The 114th Congress will be sworn in and the new Committees will be assigned in January 2015. At that time, with your help, we will be ready to face the challenges and will look to NOSSCR members for input, letters and contacts.