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Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Social Security to fast-track some disability claims

WASHINGTON -- In an effort to ease the burden of being stricken with a debilitating condition, the Social Security Administration is expanding a program that fast-tracks disability claims by people who get serious illnesses such as cancer, early-onset Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease -- claims that could take months or years to approve in the past.
While providing faster benefits, the program also is designed to ease the workload of an agency that has been swamped by disability claims since the economic recession a few years ago.
Disability claims are up by more than 20 percent from 2008. The Compassionate Allowances program approves many claims for a select group of conditions within a few days, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said. The program is being expanded Thursday to include a total of 200 diseases and conditions.
Many of the conditions are rare; all of them are so serious that people who suffer from them easily meet the government's definition of being disabled, Astrue said. With proper documentation, these are relatively easy cases for the agency to decide, too easy to put through the usual time-consuming process that other applicants face, he said.
"Why for someone who is going to die within 15 months do we need 15 years of medical records?" Astrue said in an interview. "If somebody's got a confirmed diagnosis of ALS, you know that in essence, it's not only a disability, it's a death sentence, and there is no use in burdening them with paperwork."
High demand during the sour economy has made it difficult for Social Security to reduce disability claims backlogs and wait times for decisions. About 3.2 million people have applied for disability benefits this year, up from 2.6 million in 2008, the agency said.
Disability claims usually increase when the economy is bad because people who managed to work even though they had a disability lose their jobs and apply for benefits. Others who have disabilities may not qualify for benefits but apply anyway because they are unemployed and have nowhere else to turn.
Two-thirds of initial applications are rejected, according to the agency. If your benefit claim is rejected, you can appeal to an administrative law judge but the hearing process takes an average of 354 days to get a decision. In 2008, it took an average of 509 days, according to agency statistics.
Judge Randy Frye, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, said judges have been working hard to reduce backlogs while some decide more than 500 cases a year. But, Frye said, his group was not consulted on the Compassionate Allowances program.
"We want claimants that are worthy of the benefits, that meet the definitional standard for disability, to be paid as quickly as possible," said Frye, who is an administrative law judge in Charlotte, N.C. "On the other hand, I think we are not interested in seeing programs designed to simply pay down the backlog. Whether this is that kind of program or not, I don't know."
Social Security's standard is to award benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death.
More than 56 million people get Social Security benefits. Nearly 11 million beneficiaries are disabled workers, spouses and children. Benefits for disabled workers average $1,112 a month, or about $13,300 a year.
The Compassionate Allowances program is designed to render decisions in 10 days to 15 days. It was started in 2008, about a year after the agency did an internal review of how it handled initial applications from people with a handful of serious but rare conditions.
In about 40 percent of the cases studied, the agency mishandled the claim, either rejecting valid claims or taking too long to approve them, Astrue said. Among the conditions studied was ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a debilitating condition that causes people to lose muscle strength and coordination, eventually making it impossible to do routine tasks such as walking up steps, standing or even swallowing.
Since the Compassionate Allowances program was started, 200,000 people have received expedited benefits, Astrue said. On Thursday, the agency is scheduled to announce that it is adding 35 more diseases and conditions to the program, bringing the total to 200.
The program includes some well-known conditions, including many kinds of cancer such as acute leukemia, adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma and advanced breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
Others are more obscure, such as Alpers disease, a progressive neurologic disorder that begins during childhood, type 2 Gaucher disease, an inherited disorder in which the body accumulates harmful quantities of certain fats, and Menkes disease, a genetic disorder that affects the development of hair, brain, bones, liver and arteries.
"Some of the (conditions) aren't killing you, some of them are just keeping you to the point where you can't physically work," said Peter Saltonstall, president and CEO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders. "But you're still alive and breathing, and in that case you need to buy groceries, you need to be able to support yourself in some fashion. And so this is a program that helped solve that problem."
Robert Egge, vice president of public policy for the Alzheimer's Association, said the program is a godsend for people who have just received diagnoses that promise to be extraordinarily difficult for patients and their families.
"This is difficult for anybody to negotiate," Egge said of the disability claims process. "But by the nature of the disease it can often be especially difficult for this community, as they are dealing with not only a terrible diagnosis but then the nature of the disease makes it very hard to go through this year-by-year process of getting the benefits they are entitled to under the law."

The Social Security Administration is expanding its Compassionate Allowances program, which is designed to provide decisions on disability claims within several days -- instead of months or years -- for people with a select group of diseases or conditions. The agency is adding 35 conditions to the program on Thursday, bringing the total to 200.

1 Acute leukemia
2 Adrenal cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable, unresectable or recurrent
3 Adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma
4 Adult-onset Huntington disease
5 Aicardi-Goutieres syndrome
6 Alexander disease (ALX) - neonatal and infantile
7 Allan-Herndon-Dudley syndrome
8 Alobar holoprosencephaly
9 Alpers disease
10 Alpha mannosidosis - type II and III
11 Alstrom syndrome
12 Alveolar soft part sarcoma
13 Amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia
14 Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
15 Anaplastic adrenal cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable, unresectable or recurrent
16 Angelman syndrome
17 Aortic atresia
18 Aplastic anemia
19 Astrocytoma - grade III and IV
20 Ataxia telangiectasia
21 Batten disease
22 Beta thalassemia major
23 Bilateral optic atrophy - infantile
24 Bilateral tetinoblastoma
25 Bladder cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable or unresectable
26 Breast cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable or unresectable
27 Canavan disease (CD)
28 Carcinoma of unknown primary site
29 Caudal regression syndrome - types III and IV
30 Cerebro oculo facio skeletal (COFS) Syndrome
31 Cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis
32 Child neuroblastoma - with distant metastases or recurrent
33 Child non-Hodgkin lymphoma - recurrent
34 Child T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma
35 Chondrosarcoma - with multimodal therapy
36 Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) - blast phase
37 Congenital lymphedema
38 Cornelia de Lange syndrome - classic Form
39 Corticobasal degeneration
40 Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) - adult
41 Cri du chat syndrome
42 Degos disease, systemic
43 DeSanctis cacchione syndrome
44 Dravet syndrome
45 Early-onset Alzheimer's disease
46 Edwards syndrome (Trisomy 18)
47 Eisenmenger syndrome
48 Endometrial stromal sarcoma
49 Endomyocardial fibrosis
50 Ependymoblastoma (child brain tumor)
51 Erdheim Chester disease
52 Esophageal cancer
53 Ewing sarcoma
54 Farber's disease (FD) - infantile
55 Fatal familial insomnia
56 Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva
57 Follicular dendritic cell sarcoma - metastatic or recurrent
58 Friedreichs ataxia (FRDA)
59 Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Picks disease - type A - Adult
60 Fryns syndrome
61 Fucosidosis - type 1
62 Fukuyama congenital muscular dystrophy
63 Fulminant giant cell myocarditis
64 Galactosialidosis - early and late infantile types
65 Gallbladder cancer
66 Gaucher disease (GD) - type 2
67 Glioblastoma multiforme (adult brain tumor)
68 Glioma grade III and IV
69 Glutaric acidemia - type II
70 Head and neck Cancers - with distant metastasis or inoperable or unresectable
71 Heart transplant graft failure
72 Heart transplant wait list, 1a/1b
73 Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), familial type
74 Hepatoblastoma
75 Hepatopulmonary syndrome
76 Hepatorenal syndrome
77 Histiocytosis syndromes
78 Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome
79 Hydranencephaly
80 Hypocomplementemic urticarial vasculitis syndrome
81 Hypophosphatasia perinatal (lethal) and infantile onset types
82 Hypoplastic left heart syndrome
83 I cell disease
84 Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
85 Infantile free sialic acid storage disease
86 Infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy (INAD)
87 Infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses
88 Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC)
89 Jervell and Lange-Nielsen syndrome
90 Junctional epidermolysis bullosa, lethal type
91 Juvenile-onset Huntington disease
92 Kidney Cancer - inoperable or unresectable
93 Krabbe disease (KD) - infantile
94 Kufs disease type A and B
95 Large intestine cancer - with distant metastasis or inoperable, unresectable or recurrent
96 Late infantile neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses
97 Left ventricular assist device (LVAD) recipient
98 Leigh's disease
99 Leiomyosarcoma
100 Lesch-Nyhan syndrome (LNS)
101 Lewy body dementia
102 Lissencephaly
103 Liver cancer
104 Lowe syndrome
105 Lymphomatoid Granulomatosis - grade III
106 Malignant brain stem gliomas - childhood
107 Malignant gastrointestinal stromal tumor
108 Malignant germ cell tumor
109 Malignant melanoma - with metastases
110 Malignant multiple sclerosis
111 Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL)
112 Maple syrup urine disease
113 Mastocytosis type IV
114 MECP 2 duplication syndrome
115 Medulloblastoma - with metastases
116 Menkes disease - classic or infantile-onset form
117 Merkel cell carcinoma - with metastases
118 Merosin deficient congenital muscular dystrophy
119 Metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD) - late infantile
120 Mitral valve atresia
121 Mixed dementias
122 MPS I, formerly known as Hurler syndrome
123 MPS II, formerly known as Hunter syndrome
124 MPS III, formerly known as Sanfilippo syndrome
125 Mucosal malignant melanoma
126 Multicentric Castleman disease
127 Multiple system atrophy
128 Myoclonic epilepsy with ragged red fibers syndrome
129 Neonatal adrenoleukodystrophy
130 Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis
131 Neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation - type 1 and type 2
132 NFU-1 mitochondrial disease
133 Niemann-Pick disease (NPD) - type A
134 Niemann-Pick disease -type C
135 Non-ketotic hyperglcinemia
136 Non-small cell lung cancer - with metastases to or beyond the hilar nodes or inoperable, unresectable or recurrent
137 Obliterative bronchiolitis
138 Ohtahara syndrome
139 Ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) deficiency
140 Orthochromatic leukodystrophy with pigmented glia
141 Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) - type II
142 Osteosarcoma, formerly known as bone cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable or unresectable
143 Ovarian cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable or unresectable
144 Pancreatic cancer
145 Paraneoplastic pemphigus
146 Patau suyndrome (Trisomy 13)
147 Pearson syndrome
148 Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease - classic form
149 Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease - connatal form
150 Peripheral nerve cancer - metastatic or recurrent
151 Peritoneal mesothelioma
152 Peritoneal mucinous carcinomatosis
153 Perry syndrome
154 Phelan-McDermid syndrome
155 Pleural mesothelioma
156 Pompe disease - infantile
157 Primary cardiac amyloidosis
158 Primary central nervous system lymphoma
159 Primary effusion lymphoma
160 Primary progressive aphasia
161 Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
162 Progressive supranuclear palsy
163 Pulmonary atresia
164 Pulmonary kaposi sarcoma
165 Retinopathy of prematurity - stage V
166 Rett (RTT) syndrome
167 Rhabdomyosarcoma
168 Rhizomelic chondrodysplasia punctata
169 Roberts syndrome
170 Salivary tumors
171 Sandhoff disease
172 Schindler disease - type 1
173 Severe combined immunodeficiency - childhood
174 Single ventricle
175 Sinonasal cancer
176 Small cell cancer (of the large intestine, ovary, prostate or uterus)
177 Small cell lung cancer
178 Small intestine cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable, unresectable or recurrent
179 Smith Lemli Opitz syndrome
180 Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) - types 0 And 1
181 Spinal nerve root cancer - metastatic or recurrent
182 Spinocerebellar ataxia
183 Stiff person syndrome
184 Stomach cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable, unresectable or recurrent
185 Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis
186 Tabes dorsalis
187 Tay Sachs disease - infantile type
188 Thanatophoric dysplasia, type 1
189 The ALS/Parkinsonism dementia complex
190 Thyroid cancer
191 Transplant coronary artery vasculopathy
192 Tricuspid atresia
193 Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy
194 Ureter cancer - with distant metastases or inoperable, unresectable or recurrent
195 Usher syndrome - type I
196 Walker Warburg syndrome
197 Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome
198 Wolman disease
199 Xeroderma pigmentosum
200 Zellweger syndrome

Source: Social Security Administration

Online: www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances
Story tags » DiseasesDisabledSocial security

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