Is there Fraud in Disability — or in the GOP?

At his website Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), who introduced a bill last year to combat disability fraud, said "Not one dime should be lost to fraud, waste, or abuse."

But the Washington Post reports that fraud appears limited to relatively few cases in the disability program:

"A report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that about 0.4 percent of disability beneficiaries were likely receiving improper payments, because they were working before or after they began receiving checks. Another report by Social Security's inspector general examined administrative law judges who were approving an unusually high proportion of disability applications and concluded that some of those approvals may have been mistaken. That group of beneficiaries also accounted for about 0.4 percent of all those receiving disability payments."

Even if those two studies weren't concurrent, and you totaled their findings, that would still be a total of only 0.8 percent — or 71,650 cases of suspected fraud — out of a total of 8,956,269 disabled workers; and that excludes children and widowers (Source: SSA). Another way to look it is: Of the 92.9 million "not in the labor force", just 9.6% are disabled workers receiving Social Security benefits — and many are Vets*.   According to a study by Cornell University, as of 2012 there were 37,627,800 Americans of all ages who reported one or more disabilities.

(* I thought Fox News and the GOP supported our Vets, but in this article Fox News calls them "triple dippers". The GOP also wanted to cut their benefits with a change in calculating their COLAs.)

On their very first day at work, the new GOP Congress made a rule change for Social Security that would most certainly cut benefits for those on disability by 20%. Arthur Delaney wrote a piece at the Huffington Post regarding a group of Democrats in the U.S. Senate who came out against the recently imposed rule that blocks Congress from shifting Social Security funds to prevent a cut to disability insurance next year. In a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, they wrote, "It is cynical to try and pit retirees and beneficiaries with disabilities against each other, as the House Republican rule change attempts to do."

The GOP is notorious for hostage-taking and their “divided and conqueror” strategies (white vs. black, old vs. young, North vs. South, gay vs. straight, pro-life vs. pro-choice, etc.). One reader commented at the Huffington Post:

"Everyone I know on SSI not only DID NOT WORK FOR FORTY CONSECUTIVE MONTHS, but most never held a steady job at all. The abuse is UNREAL, the amount of people collecting for ADD, ADHD, BiPolar, when all had been drug abusers and alcoholics before are collecting in my area. And pretty much anyone who can live three years while waiting for the lawyers appeals. After three years they get it in Michigan. It's unreal!" (I'm guessing he's a Fox News viewer and associates with a lot of people who are down on their luck.)

In another post I wrote (2013) I explained that SSI is not at all the same thing as Social Security disability:

SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) is an earned benefit that is funded by Social Security taxes paid for by workers with FICA taxes. Benefits are paid to people with physical and mental impairments that are severe enough to prevent them from working. These benefits are based on a person's work record, the same as regular retirement benefits. People in this program, because they were already part of the work force, tend to affect the labor-participation rate, more so than someone in the SSI program.

SSI (Supplemental Security Income) pays an unearned benefit to low-income people who are 65 or older and/or to adults who are disabled (based on the same definition used by SSDI). This program is only for people who have very limited income and assets. SSI is financed by general revenues that the Treasury Department collects to run the U.S. government. SSI benefits have never been tied to a person's work record.

But Rep. Sam Johnson (like most Republicans) wants to talk about "fraud". So because the Republicans believe that "not one dime should be lost to fraud", they also believe that the other 99.92% of disabled workers should suffer a massive reduction in their monthly incomes. Does that reasoning sound sane? If Rep. Sam Johnson had a pimple on his nose, should we chop off his head?

So let's talk about fraud: The Government Accountability Office had estimated that Medicare loses nearly 10 percent annually to fraud — which we can partially attribute to Republican politicians such as Gov. Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Scott — as well as to Big Pharma, doctors and hospitals (Read: Gain at the Price of Patient Pain by Big Pharma).

We also have massive fraud, waste and abuse in defense spending. Does Rep. Sam Johnson and the GOP believe we should cut defense spending by 20 percent? How much is lost to fraud, waste, or abuse in any private sector enterprise? How much fraud is there on Wall Street? I suspect (as a percentage of budgets) there's far more fraud, waste, or abuse in congressional allowances.

Rep. Sam Johnson also stated at his website, "Social Security’s complex application and disability determination process makes it nearly impossible for many claimants to apply without paid professional help." (OMG! It sounds as though he feels empathetic towards the needs of the disabled!)

Well actually, disability lawyers work on a contingency fee basis — and in most cases, the fee is limited to 25% of past due benefits. But yes, the lawyers get paid, but only if they win your case. And when they do, you can bet that (after years of anxiety, doubt, depression, fear and hardship) the claimants are VERY GRATEFUL (and may have saved a few lives.)

But despite what the Republicans have been saying, that's also one of the many reasons why it's so difficult to win a disability award. On Fox News Bill O'Reilly says, "So why has the disability rate increased more than 100 percent? I'll tell you why. It's a con. It's easy to put in a bogus disability claim."

But if one goes back far enough, EVERYTHING has gone up 100%. And Mister O'Reilly doesn't differentiate between a "claim" and an actual "award". For example, by the end of 2013 there had been 2,640,000 "claims", but only 888,000 "awards". And they're actually declining. (Source: SSA).

And not everybody can put in a disability claim. First, you must be disabled. Then medical evidence must be presented, not just by one's own doctor, but claimants are also sent to Social Social Security's own medical professionals for evaluations. This author knows from personal experience. Even AFTER my condition was confirmed, I was still denied on my claim and had to appeal 3 years into my claim. The judge (in my case) seemed very harsh. I had suspected that the Social Security Administration was deliberately trying to keep the number of awards low.

So anybody who has gone through the experience knows very well that pursuing a claim is not easy at all, and most people don't win their claims. That tells me that either the Republicans are very ignorant on the subject of disability, or they don't care at all about the truth or the facts, or they have been blatantly lying all along (or all of the aforementioned).

So what is Rep. Sam Johnson? I suspect that it is he who is the real fraud — just like the rest of the GOP (Read: History of the GOP's War on Social Security). The GOP gets their "facts" from partisan think tanks, such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, accommodating business lobbying groups such as the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce. Or GOP politicians will use anecdotal stories, misinformation, conspiracies, hyperbole and propaganda to create their own facts to make their case. But many times their "facts" are based on emotion, like when they get their talking points from wealthy talking heads such as Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (who will say anything to keep their own taxes from going up) — and their hyperbole is not based on facts either. They are the real "fraud".

Plain and simple: the GOP would rather harm the disabled rather than tax the wealthy. It's past time to eliminate the Social Security "cap", tax capital gains for Social Security and pass a Robin Hood Tax.

* NOTE: Just out of curiosity, while writing this post, I did a Google search and typed "Fox News Social Security disability". I found no articles about the GOP's rule change to defund disability. So I tried two more searches queries: "Fox News Social Security" and "Fox News disability" — and again, I found nothing (just the usual stuff about "fraud"). That led me to wonder how many disabled Republicans (who only read and watch Fox News) even know about this GOP rule change to cut their monthly incomes by 20%.

** FINAL NOTE: To report fraud, click here: — because no one wants fraud, but most of us don't want to eliminate or cut programs just because of fraud. Otherwise, nothing in human history would ever have existed. We can't allow a few bad apples to ruin something good for everyone else. We can't eliminate "government" entirely — and we don't necessarily need "less" government either, just "better" government" — because even capitalism requires government.



Senator Rand Paul on Disability

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) while on a two-day tour through New Hampshire, engaged in a a conversation about the viability of safety net programs:

"The thing is, in all of these programs there’s always somebody who’s deserving. But everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system. What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn’t be getting your disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club."

Rand's comment comes as congressional Republicans are poised to cut the Social Security Disability Insurance program.

I'm sure there is fraud in the system.

I'm sure that there is. I posit probably 1 in every 5 or 10,000 people are getting disability payments fraudulently. But I can also say something else - I know that in Congress, at least two in around 300 republicans are convicted felons. So... which group has the higher rate of bad apples in it?

Rand Paul on "Malingerers"

CNN: He then qualified his comments by saying there are people who are legitimately disabled, but reiterated that there are also "malingers" who are essentially taking money from people who are paraplegic and quadriplegic.

"We all know people who are horrifically disabled and can't work, but if you have able-bodied people taking the money then there's not enough money left for the people who are truly disabled."

(* Personally, I don't know anyone who is "horrifically disabled" and can't work — but it is the GOP who going to take money from them, not "malingerers". First the GOP was using their "divide and conquer" strategy to get Social Social retirees riled up against the disabled. Now it sounds like Rand Paul is using the same strategy to get the "most disabled" riled up against those with lesser disabilities.)

"Horrifically disabled"

Interestingly, Social Security law does not require "horrific" disability, so they'll have to change the literal definition of disabled as it relates to SS disability (both SSDI and SSI use the same definition of disability).

I worked for four years as a disability claims examiner, processing SSD/SSI claims in my state. The amount of out-and-out fraud is tiny, and the people at that level are denying nearly all who apply, appropriately. The problem is at the ALJ level, not because the administrative law judges are seeking to defraud the government, but because once the claimant gets to that level, there is nobody representing the government, explaining why the claimant was previously denied.

Add that, and you'll see the number of people on disability will go down.

What Social Security funds

So I have three close personal family members getting SS money. My wife has cancer in her brain and spine. She sees a doctor three times per month at a minimum, one of whom she must fly to visit. My sister has Down's syndrome and holds part time volunteer work. My brother in law is Bi-Polar, having inherited the disease from his mother, and literally can blow up for little or no reason. Which of the three deserves less money? My wife and brother in law each have put in money to FICA for over 20 years. You cannot judge from someone walking to and from the car how healthy they are. And I work to make the drugs that will likely have or will save one of your family members. I can stop doing so and your family will die if you ask. Are there frauds? Yes, but they pale in comparison to the money for new tanks the army does not want, for the planes the Air Force does not want, to the farmer's crop price supports, and to the money given to dictators to allow goods to be sold into their countries.

Really ??

"To put this into some perspective, 8/10ths of a penny is 0.08 percent of one dollar"

Where I went to school (Montana), 8 pennies is 0.08 percent of one dollar.


Actually, 8 pennies is 8/100th of a dollar, or 8%. ;)

You say potato...

Well, both reports came to the same conclusion (0.4%) — and for the sake of argument, and to make a worse case scenario, I added them together to make .08% (a higher number).

Update from the The Alliance for Retired Americans...

Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price has Social Security in his Crosshairs: Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), the new House Budget Committee chairman, hinted to the Heritage Foundation on Monday that he has big plans for Social Security “reform” in the next two years, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Talking Points Memo blog. Price mentioned means-testing and increasing the eligibility age as possibilities. He also suggested that privatizing Social Security is a possibility.

“With Chairman Price’s comments this week, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hinting at a Grand Bargain last week, there definitely seems to be a House-Senate consensus and a plan to cut Social Security,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance.

Talking Points Memo also posted on Wednesday that “The 80-Year Conservative War on Social Security Is Back for More,” noting that conservatives have virulently opposed Social Security since its inception. The post went back to the New Deal Era creation until 1955, when conservatives called for the complete dissolution of Social Security or for its replacement with much less substantive programs. As concerns about solvency grew in the 1980’s, President Reagan signed a bill that slowly increased the retirement age while also boosting payroll tax rates, opening the door for later failed privatization efforts by President George W. Bush. The conclusion: with a Republican majority now in Congress, it is entirely possible that Social Security could face further attacks.

Senators Send Letter to Leader McConnell Repudiating House Rules Change: On Monday, several Democratic Senators sent a letter to McConnell (R-KY), pressing him to repudiate a rules change by House Republicans that could cut Social Security disability payments by 20%. Last week, the House included language in their new rules for the 114th Congress, making it more difficult to allocate payroll tax revenues to replenish the Social Security Disability Trust Fund, which is due to run out of money in 2016. The Hill reported on the Democrats' letter, which warns that nearly 11 million Americans could see their Social Security benefits cut if Congress does not take action in the next two years. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (IL), Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (NY) and Finance Committee ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (OR) signed the letter, as did Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“We are deeply concerned that the rule change in the House will impact millions of Social Security beneficiaries,” the Senators wrote. “House Republicans acted according to their extreme ideology and put these benefits at risk by adopting a legislative rule change that creates a point of order against simple bipartisan technical corrections.”

Sen. Rand Paul Alleges Widespread Fraud in Social Security Disability, to Experts’ Shock: On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) accused a large subset of Americans of being able to “game the system” to receive Social Security Disability benefits. Senator Paul then joked that "half the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts.” These comments have generated substantial criticism from labor and disability advocates, with some also noting that Senator Paul is a likely contender in the 2016 Presidential Election and has reportedly been visiting New Hampshire and other early primary states.

“Senator Paul should not trivialize the challenges faced by of millions of people,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “The kind of fraud he is talking about is very rare and distracts from real concerns over the well-being of the disabled.”

* Nancy Altman-Eric Kingson Book Makes a Case for Expanding Social Security Now: Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, co-directors of Social Security Works, have written a new book, Social Security Works!: Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All. The book explains why the time is right to expand Social Security. Events related to the book are scheduled in Washington, DC for January 21 at Busboys and Poets with Sen. Sanders and January 28 at the AFL-CIO with AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.

Obama Ignores Third Rail in SOTU Speech

In Obama's 2015 State Of The Union Address, despite the GOP's plan to defund disability, raise the retirement age again, and possibly privatize Social Security, here's all Obama had to say on the subject:

"At every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity."

Is AARP in bed with the GOP?

AARP FINALLY mentioned the GOP rule change to defund disability in their newsletter today (1/29/2015) .... BUT ...they didn’t use that as their headline story ...AND.... they used the words “Congress” and “House” -- but they never mentioned “Republicans” or “GOP” by name.

AARP's newsletter first mentioned this today but the ARRP story they link to (buried on their website and was never on their front page) was dated January 7th --- so why did AARP wait so long to mention this in their newsletter?

Also notice: In the “old AARP story” that the AARP newsletter links to, there’s also just the mention of “Congress” and the “House” -- but no blame was laid on the “Republicans” or the “GOP” -- so how would AARP members (and especially Republican voters) know who is undermining their disability?

Other organizations, such as The Alliance for Retired Americans, Social Security Works (and others) came out about this HEADLINE STORY the very next day in their newsletters (and mentioned “REPUBLICANS” or “GOP”).

And did AARP only belatedly and “casually” mention this in today’s newsletter because I emailed them last week to complain to them about not mentioning this before?

This makes me very suspicious of AARP – and it’s possibly because of AARP’s association with insurance companies that they REFUSE to squarely lay the blame on the GOP (aka "the Republicans".)

Everybody should call AARP out on this --- BECAUSE --- disabled Republican voters should know the truth as to who is really watching their back (HINT: It's not the Republicans or AARP)


AARP for profit

To me, they are a front group to sell really bad insurance, commonly through United Health and hoodwink seniors into some really bad insurance products which will of course devastate them financially. Glorified "privatization" of Medicare by allowing these "managed plans", the advantage "plans" and "HMOs" where benefits can be denied which Medicare covers.

You have to wonder how corrupt Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Minnesota are for these states do not allow Medigap policies, alternatively known as Medicare supplements. These are the good private policies which pick up the tab that Medicare doesn't pay, but they do not interfere with what is covered by Medicare.

Three states magically has disallowed them and Wisconsin is the worst offender. You're guaranteed to go broke if you are a senior and get major medical issues and also probably denied benefits to boot.

Update on Rand Paul and Disability Fraud

Senator Rand Paul’s latest attack on Social Security disability (accusing them of gaming the system) was only the latest salvo in a decades-long attempt by the Republicans to defund, destroy or privatize our Social Security system. But Paul’s attack on Social Security and disabled Americans wasn’t only heartless and offensive, it was also untrue.

According to the report released by the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General, fraudulent Social Security Disability Insurance claims are exceedingly rare. Dean Baker wrote a great piece, and says fraud accounts for just 0.02% of all payments. He also notes:

"It is also important to note that there are undoubtedly people who should be getting disability who have been wrongfully denied benefit. We could have workers dying of cancer or unable to work due a heart attack or stroke or other disability who a judge somehow decided was not eligible. If we put more pressure on judges to turn down claims then there will be more people improperly denied benefits."

And as Social Security Works Executive Director Alex Lawson noted recently, “America has one of the strictest disability standards in the developed world.”

This wasn’t the first time Senator Paul has attacked Americans living with disabilities. In a 2010 interview, Senator Rand Paul said he supports abolishing the Americans with Disabilities Act – the landmark 1990 legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability – because it isn’t fair to business owners.

The Disability Insurance Non-Crisis

Off The Charts: SS disability's previous growth stems mostly from well-understood demographic factors.

1) The aging of the baby boomers into their 50s and 60s (peak ages for disability recipients)
2) The rise in women’s labor force participation (which means more women now qualify for benefits)
3) The rise in Social Security’s full retirement age (which delays disability beneficiaries’ reclassification as retired workers)

* But those pressures are easing, and the disability rolls have barely grown for the last two years.

More Debate on Cuts to Social Security

Econospeak, in response to a post by Dean Baker, in response to an article at the Washington Post -- where it says, "Spending on other vital activities (from defense to financial regulation) is being sacrificed to cover the growing costs of a graying nation." Dean Baker, in his post, had sarcastically mentioned defaulting on the national debt as one option. And Econospeak asks, "Effectively based on the law, cutting benefits to SS recipients amounts to a default on a promise; so is this better than defaulting on debt held by high income holders of that debt?" [I would have added, "Or to China?]

I'd suggest reading through all three articles...