Commissioner Barnhart Announces Proposed Regulation
to Improve Social Security’s Disability Process
Jo Anne Barnhart, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced
that Social Security will publish a proposed regulation to improve
the disability determination process. The improvements, which build
upon Social Security’s new electronic disability claims process,
would shorten decision times and pay benefits to people who are
obviously disabled much earlier in the process.
“In developing a new disability determination process, I
have been guided by three questions President Bush asked me during
a meeting to discuss disability programs,” Commissioner Barnhart
said. “‘Why does it take so long to make a disability
decision? Why can’t people who are obviously disabled get
a decision immediately? and Why would anyone risk going back to
work after going through such a long process to receive benefits?’
My goal was to address the President’s questions and ensure
that we make the correct decision as early in the process as possible.
The regulation we are proposing would allow us to do that.”
The proposed regulation:
Establishes a quick disability determination process for those
who are obviously disabled. Appropriate claims would be identified
and referred directly to special units in the State agencies
for expedited action.
Establishes a Federal Expert Unit comprised of State and Federal
experts to provide medical and vocational expertise for adjudicators
at each level of the disability determination process.
Eliminates the reconsideration step of the appeals process
and establishes a Federal Reviewing Official level of review.
The Reviewing Official would review initial State agency denials
if the claimant requested such review. The Reviewing Official
would not conduct a hearing but would issue a decision based
on a review of the record.
Retains the de novo hearing before the Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ). The ALJs would be required to explain in their decisions
why they agree or disagree with the rationale of the written
decision of the Reviewing Officials.
Closes the record after the ALJ issues a decision. However,
new and material evidence would be considered after a decision
is issued under certain limited circumstances.
Establishes a Decision Review Board (DRB) to select and review
both favorable and unfavorable ALJ decisions and to handle dismissals.
Other review functions currently performed by the Appeals Council
would eventually shift to the DRB when the new process is phased
Strengthens in-line and end-of-line quality review mechanisms
at the state agency, Federal Reviewing Official, hearings and
DRB levels of the disability determination process. Pre-effectuation
review at the initial claims level would continue while quick
disability decisions would be subject to expedited pre-effectuation
review as well. The current Disability Quality Branch review
of State agency claims would be replaced with a new centrally-managed
quality assurance system that would perform independent end-of-line
reviews of targeted cases, perform a random sample of all cases,
and provide for an in-line quality process performed by State
Provides that Social Security plans to implement the new disability
determination process on a phased-in basis, allowing the Agency
to make adjustments as necessary.
“None of the changes we are proposing would require legislative
action,” noted Commissioner Barnhart. “Nor would they
adversely affect the employment status of current Social Security
or state agency employees.”
In conjunction with the changes in the disability determination
process, Social Security also plans to conduct several demonstration
projects aimed at helping people with disabilities return to work.
These projects support the President’s New Freedom Initiative
and provide for work incentives and opportunities earlier in the
process. In these demonstrations, the Agency will test providing
cash supports, various forms of medical benefits, and employment
supports such as transportation assistance. Social Security will
look at how making these available will help people with disabilities
The proposed regulation provides for a 90 day comment period and
is the result of collaborative discussions that have been underway
since Commissioner Barnhart first presented her approach for improving
the disability determination process at a hearing before the House
Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security in September 2003.
Commissioner Barnhart personally held meetings with over 60 professional
organizations, advocates, Members of Congress and congressional
staff, and Social Security and State employee groups.
“I sincerely believe that the new disability determination
process is a system that responds to the challenge inherent in the
President’s questions,” Commissioner Barnhart said.
“We have looked beyond the status quo to the possibility of
what can be. I believe the proposed regulation will help Social
Security provide more accurate and timely service for the American
people. And that’s what we are all about.”
NOTE TO CORRESPONDENTS: For more information on
the proposed regulation to improve the disability process, go to
The proposed regulation is on display at the Federal Register today
and, starting tomorrow, can be read online at www.regulations.gov.
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