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“The People” Can Solve Social Security’s Fiscal Issues

We all regularly read the experts’ predictions of doom and gloom for the fiscal future of the Social Security trust funds. Changing American demographics with Baby Boomers reaching retirement age in record numbers will impact the funding of future benefits.

While the facts and figures are well known, solutions have proven elusive. Congress seems afraid to tackle the issue because of the infamous “third rail of politics” fear for re-election. “Think tank” solutions seem biased based upon the political tendencies underlying the researchers.

Voice Of the People (VOP), is a new organization founded to increase citizens’ involvement with government policy. VOP has taken a novel approach to researching a comprehensive solution that appears to have bipartisan political support. Using researchers from the University of Maryland, and a study group statistically representative of the general United States population, VOP developed a series of possible solutions to funding Social Security into the future.

Before presenting alternative ideas to the research group for consideration, VOP had all of ideas vetted by both Democratic and Republican policy officials from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who deal with Social Security issues, along with the National Academy of Social Insurance and the American Enterprise Institute.

After being given background information on the Social Security programs and issues, getting arguments both for and against each possible solution, and being given data showing how each solution interacted with others to impact the result, a consensus developed to eliminate most of the Social Security windfall.

Overwhelming bipartisan majorities endorsed the following measures to help solve future Social Security shortfalls:

1. Reduce the benefits to the top 25 percent of earners;
2. Raise the full retirement age gradually to age 68;
3. Gradually raise the income subject to the payroll tax to $215,000;
4. Raise the payroll tax rate from 6.2 percent to 6.8 percent.

Each of these solutions was endorsed by more than sixty percent of both Republican and Democrat participants with a 4.4% margin of error. There was little difference based upon party loyalty when citizens tried to actually solve the problems!

This study shows that there are answers that are acceptable to the citizenry as a whole, we just need politicians willing to tackle the problem. Whether these solutions are best is up to debate. Certainly the concerted attacks on the Social Security Disability Insurance program are NOT providing solutions – just histrionic publicity.

You can read the entire report, and actually perform the same policymaking simulation at www.VOP.org.

SSA proposes new Reg forcing us to disclose adverse evidence

On February 20, 2014 SSA issued a proposed Regulation in the Federal Register dealing with disclosure of adverse evidence.  It appears that Social Security is reacting to the Wall Street Journal articles on Binder and Binder not disclosing evidence.  This proposed Regulation puts representatives at risk in several ways: 1. It would compel us to disclose evidence adverse to our clients’ claim, a possible violation of your State’s Canons of Ethics; and, 2. It compels representatives to “help obtain” medical records – but at what level?  at what cost?  What if we get cases at initial or reconsideration and we feel the DDS should get and pay for the records?   What if we know about an FCE obtained by an insurance company during a workers’ compensation case — now we will be forced to disclose that exam, even if it is adverse.   The language does say “…we would clarify that we are not shifting our responsibility to develop the record to claimants’ representatives.”  Anyone want to bet on how many ALJs will ignore that language?

This proposed Regulation would clearly force us to submit adverse or questionable records and reports we obtain from a treating physician.   The proposed Regulation also modifies attorney-client privilege in two ways: 1. It extends attorney-client privilege to non-attorney representatives; and, 2. Reports or records obtained from a treating physician are not attorney work product and are not privileged – although our own handwritten notes are.   The proposed Regulation also makes clear that “redaction” includes removal of pages.

Now in real life we never redact records and we do develop medical evidence for clients.   I do think there are ALJs who will push the envelope and put some attorneys in positions of conflict with the State Ethical guidelines.   There will also be issues regarding purchase of records and reports.  This may also be used to punish the mentally ill or unsophisticated client that can not recall of of their past medical providers.   This further erodes the distinction between attorney and non-attorney representatives.   Here is the link:  http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-02-20/pdf/2014-03426.pdf.

Your thoughts?

Jeff

You MUST get your websites working!

As I mentioned in an email I had been negotiating with a lead generation company that has offered to sell Social Security disability leads with defined requirements at a reasonable cost. I have not been able to get them to commit and just discovered the “back story.”

Apparently there was such a volume of leads that one of the national disability firms actually just merged the lead generation company into their practice! This lead business has been getting thousands and thousands of leads a month which apparently were being converted into solid cases by the national law practice. It should also be noted that the lead generation company was NOT the biggest competitor we have out there.

The competition for our clients on the Internet is just getting more fierce. You are LOSING business if your website is not actively marketing to potential clients in your community. The nature of getting new business for consumer based law practices is changing. Lead generation companies are going after Social Security, bankruptcy, personal injury, mass tort, criminal cases and more.

As we have discussed, we can either share our profits with these companies or compete.

At PRLM, we feel that a blended marketing approach will take advantage of the unassailable advantage you have of being local and being experienced. You must be taking advantage of modern SEO techniques to make your website noticed to searchers in your community. You must be constantly developing your local contacts and enhancing your local reputation. You must be diligently communicating with your former clients to mine that built-in referral network for more cases. Then, if you want a small bump in your practice and have the staff, you can supplement your work with buying leads, despite the manpower and cost per case.

Unexpected benefit from ACA

Six states and counties, including Cook County Jail located in Chicago, are getting new prisoners to sign up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)  and the Medicaid expansion program,  according to Bloomberg Washington News.   Proponents feel this will decrease recidivism because inmates getting medical treatment for mental illness, substance abuse and other conditions have a better chance of recovery and avoiding crime in the future.  There is also the practical reality for the localities of shifting  health care costs to the federal level.  According to Bloomberg more than $6.5 billion is spent by states for treating prisoners.   The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that about 480,000 people in U.S. prisons and jails suffer from a mental illness.   If the medical conditions, despite treatment, are  so severe that they preclude full time work, there will be more people with medical insurance, treatment and records to prove entitlement to SSDI and SSI benefits.

Going Paperless?

We have moved in this direction in our practice for some time. We have four smaller desktop scanners and one stand alone scanner/copier being used throughout the suite and have tried to cut back on the use of paper. We have succeeded to a great extent (although you couldn’t tell by looking at my desk) and keep refining our processes. I have found that listening to my staffs’ suggestions to be the best way to improve our system and smooth out workflow.

I was thinking of this after reading this interesting blog for those moving in this direction. Many of the issues raised are eliminated if you use a good database system — in our office we use Time Matters and, while not perfect, it makes file and document quite simple.

Let’s share best practices and ideas;  if you have any questions on this blog post them and we can all learn!  ! Here’s the article:

http://www.americanbar.org/publications/gp_solo/2014/january-february-2014/how_start_and_run_paperless_office.html

Here’s to a day of new clients and Favorable Decisions!

Jeff

Newsletter and Retargeting work

So like many others we found December to be a slower month for new business and hearings. However, thanks in large part to the Newsletter and our SEO work, January has been a great start for 2014.

Two of the community talks I did this month were directly due to the Newsletter – a local county health department had fired all of their case managers about three years ago due to Medicaid funding problems. They had all been great referral sources. Apparently, with the Affordable Care Act making Medicaid more available, they had refilled all of the positions — but I didn’t know it. One of the psychologists in the Health Department who was training these new staff saw our newsletter and called saying “We have these new case managers and could really use a training.” Bingo! 8 new friends and referral sources all carrying our cards, brochures, power point presentation, pens and bags.

I also received a call this month from a Township General Assistance Case Manager who had seen a newsletter. She has monthly meetings with other GA Case Managers in her region and asked if I would be willing to give a training to them. Would I? Yesterday I met with 17 township officials and employees working with the disabled and poor populations in their communities. A whole bunch of professionals carrying our cards, brochures, power point presentations, pens and bags!

And, as icing on the cake, they had invited a social worker from the local Salvation Army office and she will call me next month about meeting with their staff.

Retargeting is an SEO technique which causes a cookie to stay in the browser of people who come to your website. They will then find your display ads following them for about two weeks as they travel on the Internet. It is an inexpensive way to keep your name in front of prospects, and to give the impression that you are a major force on the Internet. Three different people commented this month on how often they were seeing my ads on their screens. I just smiled.

Hope January was a good month for each of you!

Jeff Rabin

Social Security benefits should be increased, not cut.

Politicians, economists and the media are all over the place when discussing the Social Security benefits programs – some advocate fixing the current system, some push for severe cuts, and some for expanding the programs.   This blog provides both moral and economic reasons for expanding Social Security, not cutting.   I’ll be sending this to some of my far right wing friends – they won’t agree with it, but at least they will know that there are opponents to their draconian cuts to programs that help retirees, the disabled and survivors.   JR

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/a-vision-for-social-secur_b_3349314.html