NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Social Security Disability Insurance Program is "High Risk," Says GAO

February 16, 2017

Senior Fellow Pam Villarreal writes at NCPA's Retirement and Taxes blog:

Every two years the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identifies and reports on government operations that are "high risk" -- meaning vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and inefficiency.  I know, I know…the entire government could be considered "high risk," but for the sake of keeping this blog post short, let's focus on one program identified in the GAO's most recent report:  the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.  SSDI has been identified by the GAO as high risk since 2003.  According to their 2017 report, some recommended goals have been "partially met," but more needs to be done:

  • SSA needs to better manage their disability claims workloads.  As I mentioned in a recent NCPA report, some 900,000 claims are awaiting approval (this does not even include disability claims from the VA).
  • The GAO reports that SSA updated their criteria for disability benefits by partnering with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to collect and update occupational information.  This saved the SSA $27 million in 2015.  They are currently working on a study to be released in July 2017 on how current technologies that assist workers can affect disability determination decisions.  The GAO reports it will remove this goal once the SSA determines a course of action in finalizing medical criteria for disability.  This is long overdue.  With all of the technology available now for people with disabilities, there is no reason that the SSA should rely on outdated criteria from decades ago.
  • Also, the GAO noted that the SSA fell short of improving coordination across federal programs.  The reason?  The proposed council assigned to this task has not yet been funded.

Social Security Disability Insurance is a $147 billion a year program and is growing at a faster rate than Social Security retirement benefits.  We need to consider major reforms that change the incentives to work and reduce the inefficiency of the appeals process.


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