Editor’s Column – July 2013

Ah. The summer has finally begun. Each year it amazes me how quickly we can change from cold sweater weather […]

Ah. The summer has finally begun. Each year it amazes me how quickly we can change from cold sweater weather to hot, where’s-my-lightest-shirt weather. This year, I’m just glad the change finally happened.

There seems to be incredible confusion around the competitive bidding program that Medicare started July 1 in our region. It seems to me, that this is a disaster waiting to happen. Trying to fix a broken system (Medicare reimbursement) with a clumsy plan that forces people to buy products from non-local vendors that may not know or be able to assess their needs does not seem like it’s destined for success. There is no question that the Medicare reimbursement system is broken, but competitive bidding is not the answer.

In another area that we’ve been concerned about for some time, we’re not alone. You may remember our earlier articles on the U.S. District Court decision in the Bradley Jensen lawsuit followed by the state’s closing of the Minnesota Extended Treatment Options program. The court required Minnesota to create an Olmstead Plan to ensure that people with disabilities have options to live independently and to work in their communities. The governor issued an Executive Order on January 28, 2013 that established a subcabinet to develop Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan.

Now the independent consulting firm hired to report to the court on compliance with its decision has expressed concern about the plan being prepared in a timely fashion. The plan is due Nov. 1, 2013 and the consultant’s report stated, “There’s a good chance that it will be delayed, again.” In his order, Gov. Mark Dayton pointed out that it is essential to provide services and supports in the most integrated setting. It’s a huge endeavor and must be done correctly. Some of Reform 2020 may hinge on this Olmstead plan. I think we have to remain concerned and keep monitoring the progress on the plan. If you are not up on the details of the Jensen case and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, we have an article on the front page that will give you some good background. There are huge ramifications for the quality of life of Minnesota’s people with disabilities. Soon we will print an article summarizing the independent consultant/investigator and their status report on compliance.

Another area of concern, the Social Security disability program has been highlighted by Watchdog Minnesota. New figures show that Minnesotans receiving Social Security Disability payments in 2012 are up 54 percent compared to a 44 percent overall increase nationally. Government officials say demographics drive the increase in disability claims and applications, starting with aging baby boomers. “The sheer number of baby boomers is going from about 35 million now to about 70 million in a couple of decades,” said Doug Nguyen, a Social Security Administration spokesman.

Some point out that the number of Social Security disability cases has moved upward with the unemployment rate. Minnesota had a 25 percent spike in beneficiaries between 2007, just before the recession, and 2012. Now Minnesota ranks 29th among states in total number of Social Security disability recipients. Some 60,000 state residents filed applications for disability benefits or underwent a review in order to continue receiving monthly payment.

Another factor behind the glut of disability applications that surfaced recently may be the role of legal firms that advertise their services to potentially disabled clients on television. The role of these companies came under scrutiny in a hearing on the backlog of 1.3 million cases under review by administrative law judges. “I no longer feel that I am serving the American public,” Thomas W. Snook, a U.S. Administrative Law Judge in Miami, told the committee. “I feel I am serving the claimants’ representatives, especially a few large law firms; and I am powerless to do anything about it.”

The debates are going to increase: Is disability for some just a “convenient” excuse for not joining the workforce? Can disability be manufactured by law firms? Are some people with disabilities more deserving of social support than others? Let’s discuss amongst ourselves, and with many others.

Keep cool and safe.