February, 2020

SSA Proposed Changes to Rules Regarding Continuing Disability Reviews

Rachel Medina, Director of Development
LiveOak Living Community

In November 2019, The Social Security Administration asked for comments from the public on proposed changes to the “Rules Regarding Frequency and Notice of Continuing Disability Reviews”. Changes would include expanding diary categories from three to four, revising the criteria used to assign cases to a diary category, and increase the frequency of continuing disability reviews for certain diaries.

 

The SSA currently uses three diary categories for individuals receiving disability benefits; Medical Improvements Expected (MIE), Medical Improvements Possible (MIP) and Medical Improvements Not Expected (MINE). These diaries were designed to assist the SSA in determining the status of a continuing disability. Once placed in a category, individuals undergo Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) to determine whether someone continues to meet the criteria to receive disability benefits. MIEs are currently reviewed every six to eight months. MIPs are reviewed every three years. MINEs are currently reviewed every five to seven years.

 

Under the proposed changes, the SSA would add a Medical Change Likely (MIL) diary category between the MIP and the MIE. The MIL would be reviewed every two years, thus increasing the frequency CDRs for individuals whose medical conditions are expected to improve. By using the MIL diary, the SSA states they would be able to re-examine eligibility for benefits more frequently. They state that by identifying medical improvements at the earliest point, they hope to move individuals back into the workforce more quickly and efficiently than the current system allows. In addition to adding the MIL diary, the SSA is also looking to change the current review period for the MINE diary. The MINE diary was established to encompass individuals with chronic or progressive impairments such as intellectual disabilities and mental illness. Currently, MINE diaries are reviewed every five to seven years. The changes would remove the two-year range and require a review every six years stating that the variability in time was not effective in discerning eligibility.

 

In addition to adding a fourth category, the SSA is recommending that the criteria used to categorize beneficiaries be revised. They argue that individuals with medical impairments are sometimes classified in categories that do not accurately reflect the amount of time needed to recover, thus under compensating or overcompensating them. The changes would also take new medical advancements and current mortality data into consideration. For example, conditions like HIV, which were fatal in the past, would be recategorized as chronic diseases.  

 

Many argue that these changes would make the system much more difficult for individuals with disabilities to navigate, stating that the current system is already very complicated and small mistakes can already lead to loss of benefits. Adding an additional diary and changing criteria for beneficiaries could create more confusion and lead to critical errors during CDRs, individuals with chronic diseases at risk for losing their SSDI or SSI benefits due to lack of clarity instead of medical improvement. The Ways and Means Committee issued a press release on December 19th asking that the comment period for these changed be extended until January 31st to allow for more time to review the proposed changes. The press release maintained that chronic disabilities rarely improve and that increasing the frequency of CDRs can create undue stress for beneficiaries. The Committee also contended that the changes would be at odds with existing procedures, thus requiring more time to investigate how the new rules would affect the organization.

 

The extension proposed in the press release was accepted. However, the comment period is now closed and awaiting final rule. The projected cost of these changes would be 1.8 billion dollars over a ten-year period.