Allsup Testimony - Ways and Means Committee - Jim Allsup
House Committee on Ways and Means
Statement of James F. Allsup, Belleville, Illinois
President, CEO and Founder of Allsup Inc.
Chairman Rangel and Members of the Committee, thank you for considering my written testimony regarding the Social Security Administration's growing disability claim backlog.
My name is James Allsup, and I am the founder, president and CEO of Allsup, a Social Security Disability Insurance representation company that has helped more than 100,000 Americans with disabilities obtain Social Security disability benefits. For more than 30 years, I have experienced firsthand the challenges facing the SSDI system. I am a former SSA claims and field representative. I left the agency and founded Allsup 24 years ago because I wanted to help people with disabilities collect the insurance benefits they paid for.
Our nation's disability insurance system is bursting at the seams. As Commissioner Astrue himself has stated, people are dying while awaiting an SSDI decision. I am not going to go into detail with the appalling backlog numbers and SSA staffing problems because this Committee already knows that the SSDI system is in crisis. Instead, I want to offer solutions.
Problems and Solutions
As many have acknowledged, the core problem is that the SSA does not have the staff or the technology to process the exploding number of SSDI applications. Hiring additional administrative law judges is a step in the right direction, but it is similar to using a Band-Aid to fix a leaking dam. It's simply too little, too late. The agency and this Committee can effectively attack this crisis on two fronts: (1) Move more quickly to embrace modern technology to faster move claimants through the process, and, (2) Form professional relationships with third-party SSDI representatives.
The SSA is moving forward on improving its technology initiatives. They include:
- iAppeals - This new Web-based appeals process has supplanted the traditional paper appeals form. Allsup uses iAppeals for all its filings and we have seen faster processing times and improved accuracy. We strongly support the agency's proposal to require all claimants with representation to use iAppeals.
- Electronic Records Express - Secure, online submission of health records and claims evidence. Allsup uses this system to electronically submit evidence in support of cases pending at the hearing level. A typical claim that reaches the hearing level consists of 700-800 pages of medical evidence, Activities of Daily Living reports, denial letters and a multitude of Social Security Administration application documents. Everyone, especially the agency, benefits when third-party representatives are allowed to submit evidence electronically.
Other technological improvements would help reduce the overload of interactions between SSA and its claimants. An example would be that third-party representatives have access to claimant data to confirm application status. This would include forms that have been received, status of medical records and earnings information.
Allsup supports these and other initiatives to streamline the SSDI process. There is, however, no substitute for the hands-on, personal service that experienced third-party representatives offer. Even with the aforementioned technological advances, the application process is still wieldy, complex and bewildering to the typical applicant. They still need help to properly complete the forms and a professional to guide them through the process.
I respectfully submit that the agency and this Committee should look for ways to increase awareness that professional assistance is available. Most SSDI applicants simply do not know help is available when they begin the process. By the time they reach the hearing level, about 84 percent of them have such help, but why not earlier in the process where it is so desperately needed and where it can reduce the number of people who end up in the hearing backlog? The effectiveness of third-party representatives has been proven in recent years.
We screen potential claimants to help ensure they will meet SSDI criteria, accumulate the necessary medical evidence, and we work closely with applicants to ensure that all documents are properly completed in a timely manner; furthermore, we provide our customers valuable program education and set realistic expectations. Hundreds of thousands of worker-hours would be saved if every application processed by the SSA was professionally documented before it was submitted.
We primarily work with claimants on the telephone and through the mail, so they do not have to travel to SSA field offices. We help pre-qualify claimants, we ensure eligibility and we develop accurate, comprehensive and factual records that save the agency many hours of claim development.
When an on-the-record hearing decision is warranted, we prepare all the evidence, write the legal brief and submit everything as a package to a judge for a decision. Our process is so effective that more than 70 percent of our claims that reach the hearing level are approved on the record, which cuts months from the waiting process for the disabled individual. About 85 percent of our claimants are awarded benefits without ever having to speak to an SSA employee. Furthermore, our call-center employees respond to tens of thousands of client inquires about the status of their claims and the SSDI claims process each month. These are calls that would otherwise be handled by an overworked SSA staff.
Third-party representation would be even more effective if the SSA could electronically exchange claimant and case status information. The result would be faster decisions, fewer backlogged claims, and certainly less personal and financial stress. In turn, the SSA could focus its overstretched resources on making application decisions.
I emphasize that this proposal is not a step toward privatization. It is simply a strategic partnership between the government and industry to meet the demands of the people with disabilities, today and well into the future. Allsup is on the front lines of the disability backlog challenge. Everyday, we work with individuals and their families who are desperate because they have fallen on hard economic times because a serious injury or illness is preventing them or a family member from working.
Chairman Rangel and Members of the Committee, I commend you for holding this hearing to raise awareness of these issues. Thank you again for the opportunity to provide testimony. I look forward to working with you to address this growing crisis.