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Keeping Social Security Disability Benefits Might Become Harder

Recipients may have their eligibility reviewed more often

Close up of Social Security Disability Claim Form with writing hand

iStock / Getty

En español | Newly proposed rules from the Social Security Administration (SSA) may make it more difficult for disability recipients to keep their benefits.

The SSA reviews disability claims periodically to determine whether a recipient's health has changed in ways that affect eligibility for benefits. The SSA currently groups disability into three large groups, each with its own timeline for how often a recipient is up for review: Medical Improvement Expected (reviewed every six to 18 months), Medical Improvement Possible (every three years) and Medical Improvement Not Expected (every five to seven years).

The SSA is now proposing a new category — Medical Improvement Likely — to fit in between Medical Improvement Expected and Medical Improvement Possible. People who are moved from Medical Improvement Possible into the new category would have to complete reviews more frequently. Recipients moved into the new category from the Medical Improvement Expected group would be reviewed less often. The change would affect people who receive benefits through either the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

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Social Security Commissioner Andrew M. Saul says the agency hasn't updated some of its disability regulations in decades, and it must do so now to prevent fraud. “I believe that eligibility requirements should be fair and they should represent a person who's really disabled and should be available for the benefits,” Saul told AARP last month. “That's why the laws were passed in the beginning. Unfair claims should not proceed.”

In its comments to SSA’s proposed rule, AARP asked that any changes to the disability program be supported by clear data and an eye toward the impact such changes would have on recipients. In 2018, more than three out of four people who received SSDI benefits were age 50 or older, and the average age of an SSDI recipient was 54.7, according to the SSA.

“AARP appreciates the need for SSA to conduct ongoing and effective oversight of the programs under its jurisdiction to help ensure program funds are appropriately managed and delivered to those who qualify,” AARP’s Legislative Counsel and Legislative Policy Director David Certner wrote in a letter to the SSA. “In order to meet the objective of good stewardship, however, changes to SSA’s programs must be guided by certain standards.”

AARP noted that “the rationale and evidence for any proposed structural changes should be transparent, publicly-available, and backed by significant data. Proposed changes should also avoid placing unsubstantiated burdens on beneficiaries who have rightfully qualified for benefits, especially those with reduced capacities due to physical, intellectual or mental health disabilities.”

The public comments period for this proposal ended on January 31, which means the proposed changes could take effect in 2020.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article used a different excerpt from AARP’s letter.

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