The SSA (Social Security Administration) pays disability benefits to more than 10 million Americans, which runs into a cost of about $11 billion per month. According to the New York Times, approximately $3.4 billion in overpayments were made to beneficiaries in 2017. Though disability benefits are paid only after a rigorous medical record review and other processes, fraudulent claims are a reality and valuable dollars are lost in insurance fraud. Now, the federal government is planning to allow the SSA to check up on claimants on social media channels to eradicate fraud and abuse in the disability program.
The conservative Heritage Foundation is supporting the idea of social media surveillance, according to a reuters.com article. Already, such monitoring is done in certain fraud investigations. In 2014, the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) used social media reviews to help arrest more than a hundred people who engaged in fraudulent practices and secured millions of dollars in terms of SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance). Now, the administration is considering expanding social media monitoring capability to frontline agency staffs who work with disability claimants during the initial stages, before investigations have been initiated. In her submission to the Congress, Acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill said that the agency is evaluating how social media could be used by disability adjudicators to assess the consistency and supportability of evidence in a claimant’s case file.
The concept of social media monitoring to reduce disability insurance fraud has drawn both praise and criticism from the public. Those advocating the idea believe that more attention to people’s social media activities could help reduce fraud by providing valuable evidence to support or deny disability claims filed by people claiming to be injured. However, those supporting disability insurance applicants affirm that social media posts may not be an accurate way to evaluate a person’s lifestyle. Typically, people share content that their followers and peers would view favorably. As such, they may not share a picture or video that shows how they deal with a disability on a daily basis. Moreover, it may be difficult to establish when exactly a particular photograph was taken. Relying on social media reviews could also be a concern because it could delay the time it takes applicants who are already out of work to be approved.
But is the SSDI system beset with fraud? Fraud rates are low, says Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. More than fraud, what occurs is abuse of the system. In other words, people take advantage of certain rules and structures that allow even those who can perform some work to nevertheless receive benefits. For instance, claiming SSDI and receiving unemployment benefits at the same time; or claiming SSDI based on the argument that a disability prevents a worker from performing certain types of jobs, are examples of abusing the rules. Greszler along with other SSDI critics believe that the increase of SSDI applications and award grants concurrent with the increase in unemployment during the Great Recession may be evidence of abuse. The Heritage Foundation has released a paper with 16 reform recommendations focused on improving the program’s solvency and integrity. These recommendations include the plan to utilize social media surveillance when determining eligibility for SSDI, more stringent eligibility definitions and replacement of SSDI’s progressive benefit formula with a “flat anti-poverty benefit.” Another significant recommendation is to use private disability insurance more, especially among higher-income workers.
There is no doubt that SSDI fraud is a matter of serious concern, but insisting on social media surveillance could bring its own share of problems. Meanwhile, it is best that people remain cautious about what information they post on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Whether already receiving disability benefits, or are applicants for the same, people should understand that actions are being undertaken by the government to scrutinize their online activities and thereby uncover any instance of disability benefits fraud.
Even with all the stringent screening associated with SSDI eligibility determination, it is unfortunate that fraud occurs. Providers of medical record review services to social security lawyers understand how the SSA works incessantly to prevent, detect and prosecute fraud. With such commitment, they have succeeded in reducing the fraud incidence rate to lower than 1%.