SSA speeds up the fast-track process

Thursday - 10/21/2010, 9:31am EDT

Michael Astrue, Commissioner, Social Security Administration

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By Jamie Blanco
Digital News Writer
FederalNewsRadio.com

Technology and new rules at the Social Security Administration may be setting an example of efficiency for other agencies.

SSA hopes to streamline their benefits approval process for adults with the most severe disabilities, down to just a few days, and at the same time free up their examiners to work on more complex cases.

Commissioner, Michael Astrue, told Federal News Radio SSA currently has an onslaught of cases as a result of the recession -- about 650,000 more cases this year than expected. "So anything we can do to work smarter, benefits all Americans."

The new rules, said Astrue, are based on good results seen in previous fast track disability claim processing models.

What we're trying to do, now that we've been so successful in identifying the cases that really should just be allowed, the old rules that required a medical review in every case have become rubber stamping, dead weight loss, it takes away time and effort from the harder cases where we need that medical expertise. So by shifting the medical review out of these cases, these cases will be decided more quickly.

Astrue said SSA's Quick Disability Determination process, a predictive computer model, helps to analyze data within an electronic disability file and identify those patients who have diagnoses that designate them as "obviously severely disabled."

"So for the people that are in these categories, it will be a blessing, it will be quicker, it will be less paperwork." Astrue said, "And for the rest of the population... there will be, to a small extent, a little bit more in the way of resources to move those cases along. So what we're also excited about is that we'll free up more time with the medical doctors for some of the other cases that are trickier and require more medical expertise."

Astrue also told Federal News Radio that the new rules do not necessarily make it easier for anyone to commit fraud as a result of the skipping the medical exam. "There's... nothing preventing an examiner from consulting with a doctor if there seems to be something out of the ordinary," said Astrue.

Currently it takes severely disabled applicants about two weeks to get approved. Without the burden of an additional exam in the most extreme cases, Astrue said he hoped to see the approval time cut in half.

Overall, the Commissioner said he hopes this new process will be more "more efficient and more compassionate" for families suffering with severe disability.

For example in the case of something as deadly and aggressive as a glioma brain tumor, Astrue said, "then we really don't need a doctor to go through the rest of the detail of the record or go through all the other things we do to make sure we make the right decision."

Astrue calls the program a "win-win."