Senator Lankford Offers Real Reforms to Social Security Disability Insurance Program

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today offered an amendment to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (H.R.1314) that reforms the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. Specifically, the amendment (#2755) would improve the adjudication process for appeals and reconsiderations; prevent individuals from receiving SSDI who are not disabled; and ensure stronger program integrity, processing and oversight.

“This Congress has missed another opportunity for real reform. The Social Security Disability Insurance changes in the current budget agreement are not the type of substantive reforms that are needed to strengthen the program for disabled Americans,” said Lankford. “The budget deal’s social security changes put a Band-Aid on the disability program, and it does almost nothing to solve the program’s future insolvency. Unfortunately, Social Security Disability Insurance has become saddled with fraud, waste and outdated bureaucratic inefficiencies, which threaten the program for those who rely on it the most. In order to strengthen the program for disabled Americans, we must pursue reforms that crack down on fraud, fix the broken adjudication process, and improve program integrity and oversight. Congress has had four years to prepare for this moment, but instead they failed to put in place the real reforms available.”

In its 2015 annual report, the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees addressed the financial outlook of SSDI. In the report, they affirmed that the program was approaching insolvency and that a reallocation of funds should not be considered a long-term solution.

Lankford has been a vocal advocate to reform SSDI beginning with his time as Subcommittee Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, HealthCare and Entitlements. In September, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced its decision to seek comments on updating the SSDI program’s medical and vocational guidelines. In April 2014, Lankford and Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked the Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin to make 11 reforms to improve the program that could be done without Congressional legislation. One of the recommendations was to update its eligibility criteria to match today’s workforce capabilities.

Earlier this year, Lankford also wrote an opinion piece entitled, Social Security Disability Insurance Is a Looming Crisis, which focused on solutions to resolve consistent issues with the program.

Details of Amendment #2755:
Prevents individuals from receiving SSDI who are not disabled, by:
·         Updating the Social Security Administration (SSA) medical and vocational guidelines for eligibility, which hasn’t been updated since 1978
·         Making sure that claimants who are assumed to be able to work (i.e., eligible for Unemployment Insurance) don’t get trapped in a benefits system that discourages work.
Improves the adjudication process for appeals and reconsiderations by:
·         Streamlining the process to eliminate unnecessary steps for claimants for reconsideration
·         Tightening rules and requirements, and reducing fees to keep Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), claimant representatives, medical experts, and SSA accountable.
·         Strengthening SSA and Congressional oversight of SSA and ALJs.
Ensures stronger program integrity and processing by:
·         Creating a separate budget account for SSA’s program integrity work, to ensure benefit processing is accurate and efficient
·         Making available information to Disability Determination Services and ALJs about medical improvement, and,
·         Ensuring that claimants whose records are not fully-developed have their cases thoroughly reviewed.