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SSA changes weight of treating physician rule

In a recent rule change, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has changed the way in which it will view statements from an applicant's treating physician. Previously, statements of the treating physician had been according "significant weight" as evidence of disability in an application for Social Security Disability benefits.

While not controlling, it made sense to consider the statements of an individual's treating doctor, as they have had the best opportunity to observe the person and examine their impairing conditions.

The new rule eliminates that perspective and means the statements or conclusions of a treating doctor may be minimized or given no greater weight by SSA's adjudicators than an individual who may have only reviewed test results and who may never have seen the patient directly.

This rule change when into effect on March 27 and will make it more difficult for claimants attempting to obtain SSD benefits. The number of people who received SSD benefits has actually gone down for the first time decades and this rule change is unlikely to reverse that trend.

Ironically, while it becomes ever more difficult to obtain approval from SSA for disability benefits, the federal courts of appeal are finding more reasons to reverse denials by the agency. SSA has been criticized by these courts for looking for any reason to deny a claim, even in cases where there is strong evidence of disability.

The backlog, too, is working to SSA's advantage in reducing claims, as the typical two-year time frame most appeals require often results in the death of the claimant. Anyone who believes SSD benefits are easy to obtain simply does not understand the struggle many go through to receive them.

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