Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Social Security Disability Benefits:No subsitute for Medicare!

I received some very thoughtful comments about my post, Raising the Retirement Age: Bad for the Old, Disastrous for the Young. Carol and Nance raised points I should have included in my post:

From Nance:
"I have seen so many teachers, social workers and nurses who are exhausted by the emotional demands of their jobs..." Count me among these. I loved my private psychotherapy practice, but there came a time when arthritis made long hours in the chair impossible and the long, slow accumulation of residue from years of vicariously experienced traumas had begun to declare itself.

When I retired, it was time. I was turning 60 in a job most folks would say you could do into your eighties. When I think of returning to it, I feel sick.

Everyone I've ever talked to who is past sixty has begun struggling with notable physical decline in some form and longs for the day they can change gears to meet their own physical needs.

From Carol:
I loved the column, but you should have mentioned that in our post-60's, health problems like diabetes, Parkinson's, cancer, heart disease, etc. tend to kick in, so not only will older people working make it less likely for younger ones to get jobs -- but also it is inhumane for a society to expect people to continue working when they may be frail or battling serious illnesses.

The advocates of raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare usually counter that those older folks who are disabled can apply for Social Security Disability Benefits. I asked a couple of my friends who worked for organizations advocating for the elderly and they both said, “It’s not so easy.” Unlike Medicare, which we are automatically entitled to at age 65, and Social Security retirement benefits, for which we are automatically eligible (at a reduced rate, to be sure) at age 62, there is nothing automatic about Social Security disability benefits. To qualify, applicants must be severely disabled, and even then there is a very high rate of rejection; getting approval takes forever. The arthritis Nance described would not be sufficient to qualify.

An article in the latest issue of AARP Bulletin, Waiting for Social Security Disability confirms what my friends said:

About 60 percent of cases are initially rejected. Applicants can ask for review by an administrative law judge, hire an attorney and wait months for a hearing… By last fall, 840,000 initial applications were pending.

Part of the problem is the sour economy. Applications have soared since late 2007 as workers with disabilities lost jobs and couldn't find new employment. At the same time, more boomers — many of them unable to find jobs — have applied for disability benefits.

All told, about 8.5 million workers and about 2 million adult children, widows and widowers were receiving disability benefits as of August. The average age of a disabled worker in the program now is 53. No one gets rich from the program: The average monthly benefit is $1,070.20.

Social Security Disability can not be counted on as a fallback for the infirm elderly if the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security are raised. The idea that people who are not doing heavy physical work should be able to work well into their late 60’s and 70’s is cruel for all the reasons Nance stated. We can’t let this happen.

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