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New rule may be making SSD appeal backlog worse

Even New Yorkers who have never needed to apply for disability themselves may know from news reports that the wait period for a disability appeal has been getting longer and longer over the recent years.

This is not surprising since around half of all disability applications for Social Security Disability submitted get denied for any number of reasons. If a person who gets denied social security really needs the financial help, he or she must ordinarily ask for a review hearing in front of an administrative law judge. Moreover, the number of people seeking disability benefits has steadily increased since the Great Recession, while the resources available to the Social Security Administration have, if anything, been scaled back.

Now, a new rule that has been in force for a few months now may make the backlog even worse simply because it gives the Social Security Administration an easier path to denying an application for benefits. Formerly, someone reviewing an application had to give some special weight to the opinion of an applicant's treating physician. Now, the treating physician is given no automatic special treatment; in theory, their opinion is as good as that of any other medical expert, even one who hasn't actually seen the patient.

While proponents of this measure argued that it was necessary to prevent fraud or collusion between an applicant and his or her doctor, the measure may wind up serving to give officials one more reason to deny a claim, as it may be quite easy to find some evidence that contradicts a treating physician's opinion.

How this rule will lay out in practice will not be clear until it has been in effect for a longer time. Needless to say, though, New Yorkers who are applying for disability benefits need to watch this development closely.

Source: Flatland, "New rule may worsen backlog for Social Security Disability claimants," Alex Smith, June 13, 2017.

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