I just can’t get enough of Senator Coburn’s Back in Black publication. You know, the 600 page report that seeks to reduce wasteful government spending and get the federal budget under control. Just to be clear, I do not dislike all of his ideas. I am fully in favor of eliminating reconsideration nationwide. Thankfully reconsideration has been eliminated in Michigan as part of a long-standing pilot project. With that in mind, I take issue with many of Senator Coburn’s ideas. I have already written about one here.
I was offended to read that Senator Coburn thinks that attorneys and others who represent claimants seeking Social Security disability and SSI benefits would intentionally draw out Social Security cases in order to get higher attorney fees. In his own words:
Since attorneys and claims representatives are paid a percentage of back-pay awarded to a claimant, an open record provides an incentive to prolong cases to increase attorney fees.
As an Michigan attorney, this type of action would be against my professional oath. When I was sworn into Michigan Bar Association, one of the promises I made was that “I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed, or delay any cause for lucre or malice….” In other words, dragging out a case for my own profit is wrong, wrong, wrong. My inclination to practice Social Security law was formed by my desire be a champion for the defenseless and oppressed. I routinely represent the underdog – one person fighting against the entire might of the federal government.
He goes on to say, on page 545:
At minimum, the open record allows attorneys and representatives to pursue additional supportive medical evidence (and incur additional cost) only as a result of an unfavorable hearing decision.
This statement is simply absurd. Wait times at my primary appeals office regularly push 500 or more days. Senator Coburn thinks that I would take on the time, expense, and opportunity cost of carrying a case for close to two years and go to a hearing without having the medical records I need to win the case. He thinks that if I lose a case, I will then go get the medical records and send them with an Appeals Council appeal – a level of appeal that takes years to complete. I am not going to risk another two-plus years of waiting just because I want to save a few dollars on medial records.
Page 545 of the Coburn plan says:
This proposal would require all evidence supporting a claimant’s application for benefits be submitted one week before the scheduled ALJ hearing date.
Senator Coburn, a physician, should know that medical care is an ongoing process that does not stop one week prior to a hearing. Sometimes important treatment is received very close to the hearing date. And not all doctors are know for their speed in answering requests for medical records. For instance, I recently had a case where the claimant was scheduled for a major surgery the day after the hearing. Under the Coburn plan, that evidence is not important enough to include in the hearing record.
Saving the federal government money is a commendable goal, even if it is long overdue. Senator Coburn’s plan seems to have some ideas that definitely save would save money. But many of the ideas to save money through the Social Security program seem to follow the goal of saving money at any cost. And hey, while we are busy throwing disabled people under the bus, lets accuse attorneys and representatives of misconduct. Senator Coburn, Social Security wait times are not slow because attorneys are stringing out cases.
B. Thomas Golden is a Michigan attorney who practices Social Security disability and SSI law. For more information, please call his office directly at (616)897-2900.