Stimulus, Pending Bills Could Impact Private Insurers By Affecting SSDI
Passage of a stimulus bill provision that will help laid-off workers continue group health coverage is the benefits event that has gotten the most attention in recent weeks.
But the new Congress also has been considering and passing bills that could affect the disability insurance community.
The stimulus bill, for example–H.R. 1, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act–includes a provision that could help increase the efficiency of the Social Security Administration and the Social Security Disability Insurance claim determination process.
Disability insurers care greatly about SSDI, partly because insurance executives believe their customers deserve to be treated better by the SSDI system, and partly because many disability insurers coordinate benefits with SSDI benefits. Disability insurers have complained in recent years about growing delays in SSDI claim processing efforts.
ARRA provides $1 billion in extra funding for the SSA, with $500 million to be spent on replacing the SSA National Computer Center and $500 million to be spent on improving disability and retirement administrative operations.
Lawmakers are hoping the SSA will use some of the money to build tools for handling electronic medical records in the SSDI electronic claim file system.
“These additional funds will allow SSA to process a growing workload of claims in a timely manner and to accelerate activities to reduce the backlog of disability claims,” officials write in the conference report that describes the final version of H.R. 1.
Drew King, president of JHA, Portland, Maine, a disability risk management and consulting firm, says the extra SSA funding should be helpful. “The need to re-do their systems is very acute,” King says, citing reports that the main SSA computer system was set up in the early 1970s.
ARRA also includes a federal rehabilitation services and disability research provision, which provides $680 million for state vocational rehabilitation services programs. In some cases, those programs might help private DI claimants with return-to-work efforts.
–Requires the government to pay a one-time “economic recovery payment” of $300 to each eligible adult SSDI recipient as well as to each adult beneficiary of other Social Security programs.
–Will require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to conduct a study within 2 years of potential use of technology to help seniors and individuals with disabilities.
Here is a rundown of some other bills that could affect disability insurers and disability insurance claimants:
–The SSA has eliminated the usual 2-year SSDI waiting period for some applicants with catastrophic health problems. H.R. 678 (Rep. Robert Filner, D-Calif.) would require the SSA to waive the usual 2-year SSDI benefits waiting period for applicants who have Huntington’s disease. H.R. 723 (Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.) would require the SSA to eliminate the 2-year waiting period for applicants suffering from disabling burn injuries.
–H.R. 33 (Rep. Michael McIntyre, D-N.C.) would change the Social Security Act to eliminate the 5-month waiting period for entitlement to disability benefits and eliminate reconsideration as a step that must come between the initial SSDI benefits determinations and later hearings on those decisions.
–H.R. 307, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act (Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.) would set up paralysis research consortia, support paralysis treatment centers, and promote efforts to improve the care of people who are dealing with paralysis.
–H.R. 769 (Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.) would help people who give up paid work to care for disabled relatives by crediting them with 5 years of “deemed wages” for purposes of computed Social Security retirement benefits.
–H.R. 772 (Lowey) would allow disabled widows to collect full Widows’ Insurance Benefits and disabled widowers to collect full Widowers’ Insurance Benefits regardless of age. Today, widows and widowers collect full widow or widower benefits only if the widows or widowers are over age 50.