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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Sixty Minutes Disability Piece: Two More Items

Sixty Minutes Disability Piece: Two More Items

Monday, 07 October 2013 10:51

There are a couple of other points worth making on the Sixty Minutes piece beyond what I said earlier. First, the numbers involved should be put in some context. The Sixty Minutes folks were warning us that if the Disability fund runs dry, "it's your money and our money." So we should know how much of our money is at stake.

According to the Social Security Trustees Report, spending on the disability program in 2013 will be $144.8 billion. If we go to CEPR's incredibly spiffy responsible budget reporting calculator we find that this sum is equal to 4.2 percent of spending for the year.

Before you run off and spend this windfall, it is important to remember that the bulk of the people collecting disability would almost certainly even fit Senator Coburn's definition of disabled. We have people with terminal cancer, people who were paralyzed in car crashes, and many other ailments that undoubtedly impose a real impediment to work.

Based on what we know from the University of Michigan study, it is unlikely that even 10 percent of those collecting disability would fit most people's definition of bogus claims. But just to humor our disability bashing friends at Sixty Minutes, let's say that it's 20 percent. That means that we can knock down federal spending by 0.84 percent ($29.0 billion) if we just crack the whip. That's not trivial, but not enough to allow too many big fiestas with the savings.

This brings up the second point. The bogus cases will never be so polite as to identify themselves as bogus cases. In order to weed out a higher percentage of the people who should not be getting benefits we will have to tighten restrictions and deny a large share of claims. This will mean denying more claims that should be approved.

In other words, we can undoubtedly whittle down the number of bogus claims that get approved, but the cost will be that more legitimate claims will be turned down as well. So the price of denying benefits to some people who might be making too big of a deal out of back pain may be to deny benefits to people who can barely walk due to a back injury.

If the judgment of the hearing officers were perfect we wouldn't have this problem, but it's not. The question that anyone who wants to go the crackdown route has to answer is how many genuinely disabled people are you prepared to deny benefits in order to weed out a bogus applicant? Unfortunately, Sixty Minutes did not ask this question.

Comments (12)Add Comment
Hit list
written by Ellis, October 07, 2013 11:51
This kind of media attention is not an accident. It is a sure sign that Obama and Congress will soon cut Social Security disability insurance. Why not? Someone has to pay for all the wars and corporate tax cuts.
written by Michael, October 07, 2013 1:18
The sixty minute story on Social Security disability was an attack on people who are disabled. To interview two former employees of a law firm that appeared they had an axe to grind was not fair. There are people who are disabled that can't get on to the program because they are denied. An un fair story by a senator who should be concentratimg on the shutdown of our government, were federal employees are not getting paid while this senator still collects his check, rather pick on the disabled.
who cares..., Low-rated comment [Show]
written by Kat, October 07, 2013 3:37
Steve Kroft, who I suppose calls himself a journalist states:
"A lot of it is just people gaming the system. "If you're 50 years old and you've got a bad back, what are you going to do? Are you going to try and take a minimum wage job with no health insurance? Or are you going to try and get on disability?"
And he's off. No discussion of the fact that this seems like a perfectly rational choice for this individual. The fact that there are many jobs that don't pay (and still people do them) goes totally over his head.
Actually, the one family I know receiving disability (various members) probably is Kroft (and Kristof's and TAL's) worst nightmare. I think the proper response is: So what. Or maybe a better response is perhaps we need cash assistance for these people that does not come from the SS fund.
Worker have very little leverage in this country. It is expected that the minions of the 1% will disparage any program such as unemployment or disability that does provide any sort of leverage. I don't understand why other workers would do so.

written by watermelonpunch, October 07, 2013 7:48
@ Kat ... yes the lack of solidarity among regular folks is breathtaking.
I'm continually shocked and despaired about it.
Bad journalism by 60 Min but point is correct
written by RRaccoon, October 08, 2013 6:45
Yes, 60 Min did a bad job but I think what there is a lot of truth to what they were presenting.

I dont think it was an attack on the disabled. It was an attack on those who are gaming the system to receive disability checks. The right wing Coburrn himself said that there should be a safety net for those who are truly disabled. It's the thieves who should be prosecuted.

Because we don't have an adaquate unemployment insurance the people who still cannot get jobs, this is what some people are doing to get by.

Now these amounts are all small compared to corporate welfare, compared to the budget but the register with regular others. Whether its 20. 10, or 5 percent fraud there should be an effort to punish those who game or facilitate others to game. Instead, corporate cheats are left alone and a ridiculous amount of money is spent in the war on drugs.

The 60 MIN report left a lot to be desired but it's is a problem (however small) that resonates. It's a result of a failed response to the prolonged recession.
written by Squeezed Turnip, October 08, 2013 7:58
But there already is a fraud investigation force. Coburn doesn't want to spend the money on funding a proper amount of disability examiners needed to get the rate of fraud (0%) that he desires.
written by elboku, October 08, 2013 10:30
You want to know the practical effects of solving this 'problem'- read the following, a truly heart-breaking look into the reality of what these monsters are proposing: http://www.esquire.com/feature...ck=main_sr
Some deserving people cannot get SSDI
written by Floccina, October 08, 2013 10:34
The problems with the program are both undeserving people getting it and deserving people not able to get it. Replace it and other programs with a basic wage guaranty.
written by JDM, October 08, 2013 2:27
Anyone who says we should be cutting down fraud in programs like this must also be for drastically increasing the funding for federal workers in these departments. Otherwise they are engaging in magical thinking, and hypocrisy. And what do you know, virtually everyone who wants this fraud cut down also want to keep those departments' employment levels as they are, if not decrease them.
written by watermelonpunch, October 08, 2013 10:28
written by JDM, October 08, 2013 2:27
Anyone who says we should be cutting down fraud in programs like this must also be for drastically increasing the funding for federal workers in these departments. Otherwise they are engaging in magical thinking, and hypocrisy. And what do you know, virtually everyone who wants this fraud cut down also want to keep those departments' employment levels as they are, if not decrease them.

That's because some of these people don't actually want to decrease fraud, they don't really want anyone to qualify.
We're talking about people who probably have John Titor fantasies.
The 60 Minutes Piece Was Not Bad Journalism--It Wasn't Even Journalism
written by Stuart Levine, October 12, 2013 2:18
Dean--The truth behind the 60 Minutes piece is even worse than the facts that you bring to bear show--It wasn't even journalism.

The witnesses and the Coburn report were the subject of a Senate committee hearing the day after the 60 Minutes "report." See here: http://cs.pn/16E1t3J The witnesses at the hearing were the same as those who 60 Minutes paraded on its show.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.