Social Security Disability Insurance:

Factors Affecting Beneficiaries' Return to Work

T-HEHS-98-230: Published: Jul 29, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 29, 1998.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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GAO discussed the factors affecting the return to work of the beneficiaries in the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program, focusing on: (1) factors that working beneficiaries believe are helpful in becoming and staying employed; and (2) tradeoffs and challenges that exist in improving work incentives.

GAO noted that: (1) the group of DI beneficiaries interviewed identified a range of factors that enabled them to return to work; (2) factors most prominently cited were an improved ability to function in the workplace as a result of successful health care and encouragement from family, friends, health care providers, and coworkers; (3) on the other hand, DI work incentives--such as purchasing Medicare upon exit from the rolls--and assistance from Social Security Administration staff appeared to play a limited role in helping beneficiaries become employed; (4) a number of respondents said, however, that the provisions that allow them to work for a period of time without losing cash and medical benefits and to retain health care coverage for a limited time period after cash assistance ends were helpful; (5) availability of worksite-based health insurance appears to differentiate respondents who plan to leave the rolls in the future from respondents who plan to stay; (6) in addition, GAO's analysis of some of the proposed changes to work incentives--such as gradually reducing the DI cash benefit level as earnings increase--indicates that there will be difficult tradeoffs in any attempt to change the work incentives; and (7) although GAO's work sheds additional light on this issue, the lack of empirical analysis with which to accurately predict outcomes of possible interventions reinforces the value of testing and evaluating alternatives to determine what strategies can best tap the work potential of beneficiaries without jeopardizing the availability of benefits for those who cannot work.

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