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Tennessee Disability Coalition Shares Comments on Proposed Social Security Rule Changes

Image of a social security claim paper

The Social Security Administration is proposing to revise regulations on the frequency of conducting continuing disability reviews (CDRs). The proposed rules would add a category to the existing categories used to schedule CDRs and revise the criteria for assigning individuals to those categories. The proposed rules would also change the frequency with which the agency performs reviews for those with permanent impairments.

Below are our submitted comments on these proposed rule changes:

The Tennessee Disability Coalition appreciates the opportunity to comment on the proposed rules regarding when and how often the Social Security Administration conducts continuing disability reviews (CDRs). We offer these comments based on input from many of our over 40 member organizations and the experiences of individuals with disabilities and their families across Tennessee.

We are opposed to the revisions to the CDR regulations and reference Docket No. SSA-2018-0026 to associate our comments.  The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) documents an intention to identify medical improvement (MI) at the earliest point through the CDR process.  We disagree with revising the regulations to allow for more flexibility and frequency in scheduling of CDRs.  The system is already over-burdened and understaffed.  Therefore, adding more work will likely result in incorrectly identifying MI in several incidences.  This change will unjustly victimize individuals with undeniably permanent medical/mental health conditions.  Additionally, individuals may fail to successfully respond to SSA CDR notification due to several potential factors, e.g. lack of clarity regarding the new process, absence of medical resources and legal assistance to help with adequately demonstrating continued disability as attorneys do not readily accept these cases.   An increase in the frequency of CDRs in an already complex system will likely result in more appeals and backlogs. 

People with disabilities are already over-burdened with managing intensive medical and mental treatment regimens and trying to stay well. Those who are fortunate enough to have been awarded social security disability benefits have already undergone immense effort and expense over a period of many years to obtain disability benefits.  Often people are not awarded because of the barriers they experience. This includes great difficulty completing the necessary documentation, obtaining supportive medical evidence and following an extremely complicated process.  Currently, the Social Security Administration has major backlogs and delays in processing initial, reconsideration and appeal reviews.  The fact is that many are denied when first applying for benefits, some 65 - 70%, 85 - 90% on reconsideration, and approximately 50 % at the administrative law judge level.  Now, in addition to the extremely intense process to be awarded benefits, the administration is proposing to add more red tape, bureaucracy, burden, and barriers.  Because of the very nature of their disabilities, many individuals will find it difficult, if not impossible to comply with these new and burdensome regulations.

For many determined disabled due to permanent impairments during the initial rigorous process there will be more massive paperwork and doctor visits. Having established the permanent condition of their disabilities, people should not have to complete additional paperwork to re-prove their disabilities repeatedly.  Access to health care and medical professionals is a problem in Tennessee.  Rural hospital closures, all too frequent in recent years, have exacerbated the problems of access and mean that it will be even more difficult for individuals to meet CDR requirements imposed by these proposed rules.

In addition to the unreasonable burdens these rules would place on individuals, the additional burdens on the Social Security system will also be problematic. The administrative costs, time, and staff required to implement these changes will offset any potential savings achieved by cutting people off the Program. This is not a good use of taxpayer dollars.

We propose improving the present CDR system to foster a more efficient and effective process, e.g. increase staff, provide training on the complex eight (8) step CDR evaluation.  Disability benefits are vital to the continued good health and well-being of many people with disabilities. However, the proposed changes, if enacted, will leave a vulnerable population more at risk and likely result in severe harm to many.

We urge the Social Security Administration to reconsider these proposed rules.