Social Security Administration Considering SSDI Rule Changes


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Social Security Administration Considering SSDI Rule Changes of Concern

Published on August 18th, 2020 by Eric Slepian

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that it has seen a draft proposal of changes to the regulations that determine eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) based on disability. Specifically, the proposed changes would target vocational factors now used in combination with limitations from medical impairments to determine disability from working, according to the Journal.

Current Regulatory Framework

We have written here about the five-step process the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to analyze whether an SSDI or SSI claimant is disabled for purposes of the federal definition of disability. At each step, the answer to a question determines a finding of disabled, not disabled or go to the next question. If it has already been determined a claimant cannot return to past work, and the claimant makes it to step five without having been found disabled or not disabled, in most cases the SSA must then determine whether the person could adjust to other work weighing in combination the person’s age, education, work history and residual functional capacity (RFC).

RFC is the ability to do work activities after accounting for the limitations of the person’s impairments. If the claimant has only exertional limitations, the agency consults medical-vocational guidelines that are tables (called the grids) combining exertional ability (sedentary, light or medium work exertion ability), age, education and work experience. The grids indicate for each combination of factors whether a finding of disabled or not disabled is appropriate for purposes of SSDI or SSI eligibility.

The analysis is slightly different if the person has non-exertional limitations from medical conditions like environmental restrictions or symptoms from mental impairments.

Nature of Upcoming Proposal

Some who oppose current SSDI and SSI definitions of disability have long advocated for the removal of consideration of factors that are not medical – in other words, they do not want age, education or work experience to matter in the analysis of whether someone is disabled from working. The idea is that disability should only concern what limitations your physical or mental impairments cause – regardless of whether you are 30 or 55 or whether you have an eighth-grade education or a graduate degree, for example.

The proposal, according to the Journal, would change the “way age, education and experience are considered” for the first time since 1978. While the proposal would not completely remove consideration of nonmedical vocational factors, the age at which the SSA would consider them would go from 50 to 55 and the data used to craft the grids would be reevaluated based on new findings of job trends, automation and educational trends.

The agency has reportedly not yet finalized the regulatory proposal.

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