Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Disability Business, and Maine

Little more than a week ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article about apparent hanky-panky on the part of an administrative judge in the Social Security Administration.  You can find it here.

(We apologize for not being able to link you to the complete article; the link worked fine several days ago, but now only gives the abbreviated version.  We’ll keep working to find the full item for readers.)

The article included a US map, in which the percentage of disability recipients by state is shown:

Of note is the fact that Maine is in the top rank of states when it comes to recipients.  This comports well with personal but unscientific observations on a day to day basis.  These include our visits to the SSA office in Portland to sign up for Medicare a few years back.  On both trips, we were surprised to find the majority of clients in the office were not seniors like us.  And to the eye, they virtually all appeared able-bodied.

What really is galling in the subject article is the record of one particular judge, and one particular attorney he seemed to enjoy “working with:”

……….In 2010, he awarded benefits in all but four of 1,284 decisions. In 2011, before he was put on leave, Mr. Daugherty awarded benefits in all but two of the 1,003 cases he decided. Typically, judges award benefits in about 60% of their cases.

……….about Mr. Daugherty's high award rates and the number of cases he would assign himself from a Kentucky attorney, Eric C. Conn. The Social Security Administration in 2010 paid Mr. Conn $3.8 million in fees for winning benefits for his clients…..

Not bad money for appearing before a judge who seemed predisposed to find in your client’s favor virtually all the time.  We don’t mean to disparage disabled folks who qualify for and deserve the benefits.  But we’ve long believed that if there is a large, and virtually unlimited vault full of public money accessible to the citizenry, eventually careers will be built and people will get very rich raiding the kitty.

In this particular case, if you grab a pencil and paper and look at the numbers, you conclude that the judge and his attorney friend were making disposition of 4, 5 or maybe even more cases per day, depending on how many days they actually processed cases.

Result: Judge finds for the applicant. Attorney collects oh, say $3,000 for 2 or 3 hours of his work, and 6 hours of paralegal staff work.  A person could make a living doing this!

Is this typical?  We can’t say, but it does demonstrate how easy it apparently is to work the system while seemingly doing good.  And there simply aren’t enough auditors and other investigators to monitor the perhaps millions of transactions that take place each day in which funds from the public treasury are sought for a bewildering and overwhelming collection of purposes and clients.  It’s what we get when we allow government to grow more or less without limits.

A bit of looking into things gives a hint at how the system is biased.  We found this on an SSA web site:

Disability is something most people do not like to think about. But the chances that you will become disabled probably are greater than you realize. Studies show that a 20-year-old worker has a 3 in 10 chance of becoming disabled before reaching full retirement age.

IN other words, the government is biased towards an expectation that 30% of the public will eventually collect disability.  If you dig a little further, you’ll find the list of impairments that will qualify one for disability.  This reads like they are encouraging everyone to consider applying for benefits

It's hard to imagine that an attorney who specializes in such matters would have a hard time finding something under which his client should qualify, and easily send his government administrator into a kerfuffle of confusion. Especially if the burden is on a civil servant to prove that an applicant has not a single one of the listed impairments sufficient to qualify.

Wonder why we have government employment growing steadily while the private sector is struggling?  Wonder why government spending and public debt are at unsustainable levels and growing like uncontrolled wild fires?

Wonder no more, mon amis.  The answer lies ‘not in the stars, but in ourselves,’ to borrow a famous passage.


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