SSA Disability:

Other Programs May Provide Lessons for Improving Return-to-Work Efforts

T-HEHS-00-151: Published: Jul 13, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 13, 2000.

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Cynthia Maher Fagnoni
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed how disability systems in the private sector and other countries encourage and facilitate return to work in three key areas: (1) the eligibility assessment process; (2) work incentives; and (3) staffing practices.

GAO noted that: (1) the disability systems of the private insurers and the countries GAO reviewed integrate return-to-work considerations early after disability onset and throughout the eligibility assessment process; (2) this involves both determining--as well as enhancing--the ability of each claimant to return to work; (3) these systems provide incentives for claimants to take part in vocational rehabilitation programs and to obtain appropriate medical treatment and for employers to provide work opportunities for claimants; (4) managers of these other systems also explained to GAO that they have developed techniques--such as separating claims--to use staff with the appropriate expertise to provide return-to-work assistance to claimants in a cost-effective manner; (5) although these practices are common to the private sector insurers and the countries whose systems GAO examined, limited data exist on the cost-effectiveness of these approaches; (6) Social Security Administration may face greater difficulty in returning some of its beneficiaries to work than the private sector insurers, since Disability Insurance (DI) covers a broader population than the private insurers; (7) nevertheless, opportunities exist to help disabled workers remain at or return to the work place; (8) in recognition of these opportunities, SSA has recently begun placing greater priority on returning beneficiaries to work; (9) moreover, the new Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999, by expanding access to vocational rehabilitation services, is expected to enhance work incentives for people with disabilities; (10) however, fundamental policy weaknesses in the DI program remain unchanged; and (11) as GAO has reported in the past, these weaknesses include an eligibility determination process that concentrates on applicants' incapacities, an all-or-nothing benefits structure, and return-to-work services offered only after a lengthy determination process.

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