The Social Security Administration hopes to cut $5.8 billion in public disability insurance benefit payments over the next 10 years by classifying people as young for a longer period of time.[@@]

The agency has proposed a regulation that would change the age category definitions used in efforts to evaluate people who are seeking Social Security disability benefits.

The agency uses age as one factor in determining whether people are seriously disabled enough to collect disability benefits, on the assumption that older applicants will have a more difficult time adjusting to having a disability or moving into a new field.

Now, the agency wants to move the upper limit of the age categories up 2 years, to reflect a belief that older workers are healthier than workers of the same age were back in 1978, when the agency created the age categories.

“Not only are Americans living longer, but there is clear and overwhelming evidence that the average health of the elderly population is improving,” Social Security Administration officials write in the preamble to the proposed regulation.

There is no conclusive data relating specific chronological ages to specific functional limitations, but one 1998 study suggests that functional limitations among individuals ages 55 to 64 improved 2.325% between 1984 and 1993, officials write.

Today, the agency defines “younger individuals” as individuals ages 18 to 49. Other categories include “closely approaching advanced age,” ages 50 to 54; “advanced age,” ages 55 to 59; and “closely approaching retirement age,” ages 60 to 64.

Under the proposed regulation, the new categories would be “younger individuals,” ages 18 to 51; “approaching advanced age,” ages 52 to 56; “advanced age,” age 57 or older; and “closely approaching retirement age,” age 62 and older.

A copy of the proposed regulation is on the Web at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20051800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/05-21975.htm