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Technology Innovation in SSA

2/3/04

Will your firm be ready when the Social Security Administration goes paperless? The SSA, which for years has relied on hardcopy systems to keep track of its thousands of disability claims, is transitioning to an online database, leaving many paper-bound firms behind in the process.1

In January 2004 the SSA began a national roll-out of its Accelerated electronic Disability process (AeDIB).2 Several regions were selected to jumpstart the program, including greater Atlanta.3

According to Tom Hughes, chief information officer at SSA, disability filings have become a major focus of the SSA's efforts.4 "This has become a very large part of our operations, of our workload," says Hughes.5 "We're automating that process and that requires close cooperation with [all of the] states, so we're collaborating in deployment of this accelerated e-disability process".6

Under its old system, the SSA dealt with serious efficiency problems at every step of the claims process. Locating, organizing, mailing and tracking paper-bound information was laborious, and led to substantial delays for claimants. AeDIB will eliminate these delays and defray the financial costs associated with paper files and correspondence.7

AeDIB's goal is to consolidate claimant data, medical records and other paper files into condensed, electronic case folders.8 Using an electronic disability collect system (EDCS), SSA field offices will be able to collect claim data electronically.9 AeDIB will introduce a program that collects medical records for disability claims over the internet.10 The electronic folder will contain medical data, hearing records, images, and any other paper files.11 AeDIB will also allow other case processing systems to access its information, which will expedite the medical determination and appeals processes. If proven effective, the new system will be phased into other SSA offices over an 18 month schedule.12

"The SSA's changeover, if successful, will revolutionize Social Security disability practice," says Leonard Caldwell, President of Crocodile Consulting, LLC., a legal consulting firm based in Winston-Salem, NC. "The switch is going to make paper filing obsolete. Law firms will need to adapt by employing software that is compatible with the new system."

The impact of AeDIB on Social Security disability lawyers will be striking. The good news is that it may speed up the claims process. Previously, an application which was denied and appealed at every stage of the process languished for 628 days before receiving a final decision.13 The new system will drastically reduce this number while improving client satisfaction.

However, AeDIB also poses new challenges for SSD lawyers. Law firms will need to employ software that can efficiently transmit information to the EDCS. Those that continue to file exclusively on paper will be met with slow returns and aggravation. Firms with integrated, electronic systems will be able to file claims with a mouse-click, while hardcopy operations wait for SSA to convert claim files into an electronic format.

The obstacles presented by reform can be overcome. "With a carefully crafted transition strategy, the right software, and disciplined execution, law firms can make the shift away from paper painless and productive," says Caldwell.

Change is inevitable; adaptation is essential. As technology changes the ways in which Social Security claims are administered, SSD lawyers must adjust to the new standard operating procedure of the SSA, or risk being left behind. A new cutting edge has arrived. Where will your firm be standing when paper finally gives way to hard disks and plastic?

By: Samson A. Enzer

© 2004 Crocodile Consulting, LLC.


Bibliography

Courtney, Jim. "Commissioner Barnhart Presents Her Approach to Improving the
Disability Determination Process." SSA Press Release. Social Security Online. 25 Sept. 2003. <http://www.ssa.gov/pressoffice/pr/DDPImprovement-pr.htm>

Greater Upstate Law Project, Inc. "Electronic Disability Claim File System Rolled
Out." Disability Law News. Jan. 2004. GULP Web Page. <http://www.gulpny.org/Disability/electronic_disability_claim_file.htm>

United States. General Accounting Office. "Electronic Disability Claims Processing:
Social Security Administration's Accelerated Strategy Faces Significant Risks." Highlights of GAO-03-984T: Testimony before Subcommittee on Social Security, Committee on Ways and Means, House of Representatives. 24 July 2003. <http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d03984thigh.pdf>

Greater Upstate Law Project, Inc.
2 Courtney
3 id.
4 qtd. in O'Hara
5 id.
6 id.
7 Courtney
8 GAO
9 Greater Upstate Law Project, Inc.
10 id.
11 id.
12 Courtney
13 id.