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Social Security Online
Social Security Update
March 25, 2008

In This Issue:

Social Security Offers Positions to 144 New Administrative Law Judges

Next Compassionate Allowances Hearing Set for April 7 in Boston

Medical Providers Could Help Their Patients by Sharing Records with Us Timely, as Well as Electronically

Reaching Out to the Mental Health Community

Commissioner's Op-ed Summarizes Initiatives Are Underway to Improve the Disability Process

Six Percent Increase Requested for Social Security’s FY 09 Budget

IRS To Inform Social Security Recipients About the Stimulus Payments

Social Security Speaks Spanish

New Poster Promotes Medicare Prescription Drug Program and Extra Help

I'm pleased to introduce this newsletter which is designed to keep you up to date about Social Security issues that may be of interest to you.

My top priority is improving the disability process. Therefore, I want to provide some information in this edition about the many initiatives we have underway to address the challenge. I'm particularly proud to provide information about our progress on hiring 175 new Administrative Law Judges this year, as well as updated information about our “compassionate allowance” initiative which will allow Social Security to quickly identify and award benefits to those obviously disabled. In addition, this update will provide you information about our efforts to encourage more medical providers to submit patient records timely as well as electronically, which will help us attack the disability backlog and improve the disability decision process.

This issue provides some good news on the President's FY 09 budget request for Social Security and updated information on economic stimulus payments for Social Security recipients. This edition also introduces other outreach efforts we’re engaged in to improve Social Security service to your constituents. I think you'll find that this newsletter will help keep you informed about the latest news and information from Social Security.


Michael J. Astrue
Commissioner


Social Security Offers Positions to 144 New Administrative Law Judges

Scales of JusticeSocial Security has made offers to 144 of the 175 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) it will hire this fiscal year.  Due to litigation and budget cuts, we have about ten percent fewer ALJs than we did a decade ago.  During that same time, the number of cases waiting for a hearing decision has more than doubled.

In contrast to many past years, we have worked hard to allocate more judges to the most backlogged offices. A disproportionate number of the judges are being assigned to the Chicago and Atlanta regions— Ohio alone will get about ten percent of the new judges.

To learn more about this critical step in the Agency’s plan to reduce the backlog of disability cases visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pressoffice/pr/ALJ-hiringpr.htm

 

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Next Compassionate Allowances Hearing Set for April 7 in Boston

Social Security has an obligation to provide benefits quickly to applicants whose medical conditions are so serious that they obviously meet disability standards.

Compassionate allowances are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualify an individual to receive disability benefits based on minimal objective medical information.

In December 2007, we held the first of four public hearings on this initiative in Washington, D.C. where testimony was taken from experts evaluating rare diseases. The next public hearing is scheduled to take place in April 2008 in Boston, MA where testimony from oncology experts will be taken. For further information about compassionate allowances, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.

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Medical Providers Could Help Their Patients by Sharing Records with Us Timely, as Well as Electronically

ERE LogoAn incomplete medical record too often impedes individuals entitled to disability benefits from receiving them on a timely basis or precludes them from receiving benefits altogether. Medical providers could help their patients by sharing records with Social Security on a more timely basis. Equally important, technology is helping us transform the disability decision-making process, which means better service for applicants across the country. In this regard, medical providers could further assist their patients by sharing their medical records electronically with Social Security and its partner agencies. To help provide more timely service to their patients seeking disability benefits and, ultimately, Medicaid or Medicare coverage, we ask that medical providers respond promptly to requests for patient records and also adopt electronic processes to speed the decision making process.

To learn more about the options available for submitting records electronically, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ere.

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Reaching Out to the Mental Health Community

mental health professionals Mental health impairments are involved in about one-third of the applications that Social Security receives for disability benefits. To provide quality service to individuals with mental health impairments, we want to reach out to the mental health community. Information from you, as a mental health professional, is vitally important to support claims for Social Security Disability Insurance and for Supplemental Security Income benefits.

When evaluating mental disorders, information from treating sources is essential to accurately assess the onset and severity of claimants’ impairments and their effect on functional capacity. This applies to new claims, determinations of continuing eligibility for current beneficiaries, and appeals.

With the input of many mental health professionals, organizations, experts and industry leaders, we have produced a fact sheet that we’d like to share with members of the mental health community. You can read the fact sheet at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability/professionals/mentalhealthproffacts.htm

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Commissioner Summarizes Initiatives Underway to Improve the Disability Process

Each year, approximately 2.5 million people apply for Social Security disability benefits. On average, one-third of them are approved upon initial application, which takes an average of three months for a decision. But for those who are denied and appeal the decision to the hearing level, it can take a long time to receive a decision – much too long.

View our special article to learn more about the efforts underway to improve the disability process.

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Six Percent Increase Requested for Social Security’s FY 09 Budget

The President requested $10.46 billion for Social Security's administrative expenses in his FY 09 budget proposal, a six percent increase over our 2008 appropriation. Almost no other domestic agencies received increases over inflation

Social Security urges Congress to enact this budget proposal, and to do so as soon as possible.  For more information on the FY 09 budget request, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/budget.

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IRS To Inform Social Security Recipients About the Stimulus Payments

Internal Revenue ServiceThe Internal Revenue Service will begin sending stimulus payments to more than 130 million taxpayers in May. Anyone filing a 2007 tax return needs to take no other action. Social Security recipients who did not file a 2006 tax return will receive a packet of information from the IRS which includes everything needed to file a 2007 return and receive a stimulus payment.

Social Security recipients can provide an estimate of their total annual benefits on their tax return if they do not have the original SSA form 1099. They do NOT need to request a replacement.

For more specific information, please visit www.irs.gov.  

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Social Security Speaks Spanish

At Social Security, we are committed to providing the best possible information to the diverse communities we serve. That’s why Social Security offers many materials in Spanish, the second most common language in the United States. To begin, visit www.segurosocial.gov/español— a comprehensive website that provides valuable Social Security information on our programs, benefits and services. In addition, individuals can request their Social Security Statement in Spanish at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/espanol/declaracion/howto7004_sp.html. An online calculator is available at www.segurosocial.gov/OACT/quickcalc/index-esp.html. You can also take advantage of our automated phone services at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). If you need one, you can even request an interpreter. Begin getting Social Security information in Spanish now at www.segurosocial.gov/español.

 

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New Poster Promotes Medicare Prescription Drug Program and Extra Help

Medicare Poster

Spreading the word about the Medicare Prescription Drug Program—and the extra help available through Social Security—is important to us. One of our latest outreach efforts is the poster pictured here. Please download the poster and display it where people who might be eligible are likely to see it.

In case you weren’t aware, here are the qualifications for extra help:
  • Income limited to $15,600 for an individual or $21,000 for a married couple living together. Even if annual income is higher, a person may be able to get some help with monthly premiums, annual deductibles and prescription co-payments. Some examples where income may be higher include:
    • Support other family members who live in the same household;
    • Earnings from work; or
    • People who live in Alaska or Hawaii; and
  • Resources limited to $11,990 for an individual or $23,970 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks and bonds. A house and a car are not counted as resources.

You may request copies of the new poster by sending an email to Lauren.Hawkins@ssa.gov.

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