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NH efforts help response to rising tide of disabled

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 21. 2013 12:13AM

New Hampshire's efforts to contain its work force disability liability could not have come at a better time.

Aging baby boomers who haven't been able to hold onto their jobs, and are not yet at retirement age, are piling into disability programs at record rates. More than 18 percent of Americans between 50 and 64 are now collecting federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, according to the Department of Labor.

The federal program has been easier to get into since Congress in 1984 added musculoskeletal problems, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and mood disorders, such as depression, to the list of qualifying disabilities.

Enforcement of medical guidelines ranges from weak to nonexistent. If medical improvement is expected, a case should be reviewed within six to 18 months.

"We estimate that every dollar spent on medical reviews will yield about $9 in program savings over 10 years," said Roberto Medina, regional communications director with the Boston regional office of the Social Security Administration. "Unfortunately, our budget appropriations have not provided the level of funding necessary to work down the medical review backlog."

That backlog was most recently estimated at 1.3 million cases, according to the Social Security Administration.

It's no surprise that New Hampshire and many other states are taking steps to protect their treasuries from the effect of this rising tide.

"We are now in contact with every applicant for state disability assistance to be sure they are doing what they are supposed to do at the federal level," said Terry Smith, director of the state Division of Family Assistance.

"Then we monitor the decision the Social Security Administration makes, and if the SSA denies that application, then we reach out to the candidate to have them appeal," he said.

Smith noted that the Social Security Administration overturns the denial decisions of its own frontline officers 59 percent of the time.

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