SSA Fast-Tracking Rare Disease Claims
The Social Security Administration is expanding a program that fast-tracks disability claims by claimants who get serious diseases like cancer, early-onset Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease. In the past, these benefits would take months or years to approve. The Social Security Administration's standard is to award benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. More than 56 million people get Social Security benefits, with nearly 11 million beneficiaries disabled workers, spouses and children. Benefits for disabled workers average $1,112 a month, or about $13,300 a year. Previously, the Compassionate Allowances program approved most claims for a specific list of conditions within a few days. Now, however, the program is being expanded to include a total of two hundred diseases and conditions. Many of the conditions are rare, and all of them are so serious that people suffering from them easily meet the government's definition of being disabled. As long as the claimant has proper documentation to provide to the Social Security Administration, these tend to be very easy cases for the agency to decide. In fact, they are often too easy to put through the usual time-consuming process that most applicants face. The Compassionate Allowances program is designed to render a decision in ten to fifteen days. Since the Compassionate Allowances program was started, 200,000 people have received expedited benefits. The program includes some well-known conditions, including many kinds of cancer such as acute leukemia, adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma and advanced breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Others are more obscure, such as Alpers disease, a progressive neurologic disorder that begins during childhood, type 2 Gaucher disease, an inherited disorder in which the body accumulates harmful quantities of certain fats, and Menkes disease, a genetic disorder that affects the development of hair, brain, bones, liver and arteries. In addition to providing benefits to claimants faster, the program is also designed to ease the workload of the Social Security Administration, which has been swamped by disability claims since the economic recession began in September 2008. Disability claims have increased by more than 20 percent since 2008. The increase in disability claims has made it difficult for the Social Security Administration to reduce the backlog of disability claims. As a result, the waiting time for decisions remains longer than it should. The Social Security Administration has reported that about 3.2 million people have applied for disability benefits in 2012, up from 2.6 million in 2008. The Social Security Administration's application period is likely quite long, in part, because two-thirds of initial applicants are rejected. If a benefit claim is rejected, the appeal to an administrative law judge for a hearing takes an average of 354 days. Luckily, the process is faster now than in 2008, when the process took an average of 509 days. The Social Security Administration further reports that administrative law judges have been working hard to reduce the backlogs, with some administrative law judges deciding more than five hundred cases a year.