Social Security needs to take corrective action to reduce overpayments

An overpayment is messy.  It results when either the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) makes a mistake or when a claimant fails to notify the SSA about income or resources.  Either way it is messy.   The SSA then takes action to recover the over payment.  Usually they wait too long and by the time the SSA requests it, they are claiming that the claimant owes thousands of dollars.  Usually claimants do not have the money to pay it back and attorneys are reluctant to take a case because there is not a way for the claimant to pay the overpayment, much less an attorney.

Certainly not all overpayments are the SSA’s fault and it does take time to track them down.  Nevertheless, the longer the wait, the more it costs the claimant and in the end, the American tax payer.

The Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) for the Social Security Administration recently released a report, Concurrent Beneficiaries Improperly Receiving Payments in Excess of Federal Limits.  (Concurrent beneficiaries are those who are eligible for both SSI and Disability Insurance benefits.)  The OIG reviewed the records of 14,800 concurrent beneficiaries.  Out of that group, they found:

  • 246 concurrent beneficiaries received combined payments in excess of Federal limits for undetermined reasons;
  • 2,349 concurrent beneficiaries received combined payments in
    excess of Federal limits because of system-related payment
    computation errors;
  • 152 additional concurrent beneficiaries received combined payments in
    excess of Federal limits because of system-related payment
    computation errors that had been previously reported to the SSA in a prior audit .  In 2011, SSA reported it had taken corrective action to resolve these errors. However, payment errors on these records persisted.

The good news is that the problem numbers seem small when considering that the OIG reviewed the records of 14,800 people.  The bad news is that even though the numbers are small, they add up.  The OIG estimates these errors resulted in approximately $3.4 million in improper SSI payments. If the Agency does not correct these errors, they estimate it will issue approximately $2 million in additional excessive SSI payments to these beneficiaries over the next 12 months.

SSA to soon grant attorneys access to claimants’ electronic hearing folders

One of the most interesting presentations I attended at the NOSSCR (National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives) conference in San Francisco was a presentation by  SSA (Social Security Administration) personnel on a new program which will allow authorized representatives to have online access to electronic hearing folders.  Essentially the SSA understands that the more they can take advantage of technology and automate their processes, the easier it will be for the public to work with them.

For the past year, SSA has been working with 9 attorneys in various areas of the United States on a pilot program which grants online access to claimants’ electronic hearing folders.  They have been ironing out problems and now are ready to launch the program.  The program will allow claimants’ representatives to access their clients’ electronic folders at the hearing level only.  Eventually SSA wants to allow access at the initial and reconsideration stages but for now, they will start at the hearing level.

The program will begin in November 2009 with the official registration of the 9 attorneys involved in the pilot program.  Registration alone is a complicated process.  Because of the sensitive data an attorney will have access to,  the SSA wants to ensure that the attorney is real and licensed.  The SSA will require a great deal of information from the attorney during the registration process – identification and verification of identification (from different sources).   The good thing about the program is that once an attorney registers, he or she does not need to go through the process again.  The data will be stored and attorneys will only need to use their ID and password to access a claimant’s data.  An attorney will only be able to access the data of a claimant whom he or she represents.

All interested attorneys will have to register.  Despite having registered for other programs with SSA, this is a completely new and different process.  The SSA is rolling out registration in a staged process:

  • 11/09 – spring 2010 – registration to the 9 pilot attorneys and by invitation only;
  • Spring 2010 – open enrollment;
  • Summer 2010 – continued enrollment and automation of Form 1696 and Form 1697.

After the presentation, I inquired with one of the presenters to find out if I was on the list of invitees.  (The presenter said she had the list with her.)  I found out that I was not.  I asked her how they chose the attorneys to be on the list.   She told me that they looked at a variety of factors but would not tell me or perhaps did not know what they were.  My guess would be that they would choose attorneys with a high volume practice.  I was standing next to a well known, well respected, experienced attorney and he was not on the list either despite having been involved in initial talks with Baltimore about this program.  Oh well.   The SSA representative indicated that she was willing to take the business cards of attorneys who wanted to be invited and if those on the list did not respond, she would add them to the list.  If you are interested in this information, please contact me and I will let you know who I spoke to.  In any case, by the spring of next year, if all goes well, those attorneys that wish to, will be able to have instant access to claimants’ hearing folders.

I find it all to be very exciting and really commend the SSA on their work in this area.