We read a lot about disability insurance, from legal decisions to rants on forums from claimants who have been denied, and everything in between. We do not represent Social Security Disability Insurance claimants, so most of our focus is on insurance issues concerning ERISA and individual policies. But an op-ed that appeared in this week’s Wall Street Journal by Dr. Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute and the Director of Domestic Policy Studies in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University caught our eye.
First, we checked out his credentials – three degrees from Harvard, appointed by the President as a member of the Social Security Advisory Board (waiting confirmation by the US Senate, according to the Stanford Law School website), policy director for the Romney-Ryan presidential campaign, as well as Governor Romney’s chief policy advisor. In other words, he brings some chops to the discussion. But regardless of his credentials, and they are impressive, the op-ed is simply another example of bashing disability claimants on the rise as Congress puts SSDI in its crosshairs.
We agree that financial reforms are needed to ensure the survival of the SSDI program. But Dr. Chen makes a few comments that concern us. He wants the reforms to “reduce the future growth in the number of people getting benefits” and increase number of those who can return to gainful employment. What about people who are legitimately unable to work?
For the most part, our clients would love to be able to return to their old, pre-injury or press-illness lives, including their work. Tightening eligibility requirements sounds useful for cutting costs but terrible in the human cost for genuinely ill or injured workers. Former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, during his last week in Congress, proposed “supported work” services, such as vocational rehabilitation, health care, wage subsidies, or preventive care to help keep individuals working instead of going out on disability. That’s a far more humane solution and one we can get behind.
Our concerns when SSDI gets in the political crosshairs as it has recently are less about the political grandstanding that goes on and more about the impact that it will have on our clients. There isn’t a day that goes by that one of us doesn’t conclude a phone call and have to catch our breath after listening to a person whose life is crumbling under the double burden of medical and financial challenges. We know this is a problem with no easy solution, but we’d ask that Dr. Chen and his colleagues in policy wonk-land devote some time speaking with the people we talk to.
Between policymakers and Senators like Rand Paul, whose recent comments can only be attributed a complete lack of experience, one would easily get the impression that disability claimants are a bunch of malingers who are looking for an easy way out. We know better, and we think it would be helpful if our leaders did too.