Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty
Why the big deal about COLA increases? And, Speeding up Social Security Disability Claims
By RUSSELL GLOOR,
April 11, 2018
(SitNews) - Dear Rusty Why the big deal about COLA increases? - Seems like everyone makes a big deal out of the annual Social Security increase. The way I see it, why bother? For the 2017 benefit year my wife's Social Security increased by .03% but her Medicare increased by 3% for a net gain of 0 dollars. My Social Security increased by the same .03% but my Medicare increased by 5% for a net gain of 0 dollars. For the 2018 benefit year my wife's Social Security increased by 2% but her Medicare increased by 17% for a net gain of 0 dollars. My Social Security increased by the same 2% but my Medicare increased by 22% for a net gain of only $8.10 (.005%). Why does the government even bother with all these changes since the end result is that you net out no increase or just a small fraction of the actual increase? Makes no sense to me. Thanks for your column. I enjoy it. Signed: Disillusioned
Dear Disillusioned: I must say I fully appreciate your point; I too received none of the 2017 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) and only a small part of the 2018 increase. And although I know it’s very little consolation, millions of others like us are in the same boat. What it boils down to is that healthcare costs (thus Medicare Part B premiums) are rising more than, and faster than, the inflation index used to compute Social Security COLA increases. Social Security and Medicare are two entirely different programs and, even though Medicare premiums are usually automatically deducted from Social Security payments, this is done as a convenience. The Medicare premium deducted from your Social Security benefit goes directly to Medicare, not to Social Security. Think of it this way: If you paid for your Medicare Part B premium separately rather than by a deduction from your Social Security benefit, for years you would have been paying Medicare the full Part B premium amount, which was more than you have been paying via deduction from your Social Security benefit. This is because there’s a rule which states that your Social Security benefit can’t go down because of a Medicare premium increase, and many of us (including me) were paying an artificially lower than normal Medicare premium.
But the same law which says that your Social Security benefit can’t go down also says that any increase in your Social Security benefit can be used to bring your Medicare premium up to, or closer to, the standard Part B premium amount ($134 per month in 2018), and this is why so many of us have seen all or most of our COLA increases going to Medicare. Note too that the COLA increases we are seeing in recent years (or not seeing in the case of 2010, 2011 and 2016) have been much lower than in years past because inflation has been so low for so many years (at least as measured by the Consumer Price Index). So while I share your frustration, I hope that since we’re both now paying the full Medicare Part B premium each month via Social Security, that perhaps next year we’ll be able to get the full amount of any Cost of Living Adjustment that is made to Social Security. That is, of course, if there is a COLA increase and also if there is no increase in the Medicare Part B premium (and the latter is doubtful). In case you missed it, here’s a link to an article I recently wrote about this whole situation: http://socialsecurityreport.org/ask-rusty-cola-medicare-premiums-and-the-hold-harmless-provision/ .
Speeding up Social Security Disability Claims
Dear Rusty: I have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and my condition has gone downhill pretty fast, to the point that I’m not able to work anymore. I think I could get Social Security disability, but from what I’ve heard it can take years to get a disability claim approved. With my condition getting worse every day, I don’t have that many years left, but I know the bills will still keep coming. I just wish there was some way to get some financial help while I’m dealing with this. Signed: Discouraged
Dear Discouraged: Yes, as has been widely reported, the backlog of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applications has ballooned to a number which can cause an initial determination to take 3-6 months, and an appeal of an initial denial can take a year or more. That can be pretty discouraging news for someone such as you dealing with a severe debilitating condition which so obviously meets the definition of “disability”. But here is what I hope will be some encouraging news:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a program, which helps accelerate disability claims for those whose medical condition is so obviously acute and debilitating that approval is practically assured. This program, known as the Compassionate Allowance (CAL) program, is intended to identify and fast-track SSDI applications where the disability is patently obvious and from a medical condition or disease already appearing on the Compassionate Allowance list, including certain cancers, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), acute leukemia and over 200 others. Although the SSA uses technology to try to automatically identify disability applications which qualify for CAL, you can help speed up your application by applying for SSDI in person and notifying the interviewer that your condition is on the Compassionate Allowance List and thus eligible for fast-track handling. You should bring along copies of medical records which confirm your diagnosis as well as contact information for your medical service provider(s). For proven conditions on the CAL list, SSDI applications may get a positive decision in as little as 10 days from when you first file and with a relatively small amount of medical proof. But since medical providers are sometimes slow to provide confirming medical records to Social Security, this can sometimes be a factor which delays even Compassionate Allowance cases. It will help speed your case if you bring with you as much medical information as possible to prove your condition. You may even be eligible for retroactive benefits (up to 12 months) back to the date that the onset of your disability first left you unable to work.
Although your case clearly qualifies for the Compassionate Allowance process, other medical diagnoses not listed as a CAL condition may also qualify for fast-track handling through an SSA program called Quick Disability Determination (QDD). The QDD can be used in cases where a disability clearly prevents a person from working, but isn’t listed as a CAL condition. A Social Security disability attorney may be helpful when applying for QDD as well as CAL consideration (disability attorneys’ fees are limited by law).
One final note:
Although SSDI applications can be submitted online, we recommend applying in person in order to ensure the most efficient handling of your application. The SSA field office staff has the ability to identify your application as eligible for Compassionate Allowance.
You can find out more about the Compassionate Allowance program at www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances .
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