Skip to content

World Series Step Aside—It’s Time For Medicare Season

2017 October 13

By Tricia of Allsup

You can set your clock by it.

If it’s time for the World Series, it’s also time for Medicare’s annual enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7.

This special window of time—starting Sunday—provides participants with the opportunity to review their 2018 Medicare plan options.

It may not bring the excitement of baseball playoffs, but the costs are pretty high for many seniors and people with disabilities.

Medicare plans change each year, and it can be important to do the homework before choosing your Medicare Advantage or prescription drug Part D plans for next year.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult. The Allsup Medicare Advisor can make many of the complexities of choosing your plan so much easier.

Our Medicare specialists know what they’re talking about. Just read this recent New York Daily News article from Allsup’s Medicare expert, Aaron Tidball, on Part D plans.

We can help you cut through chaos, and find your way through the Medicare maze. Let us make this easy for you—and figure out the plan that fits what you really need, at a price that you can actually afford.

Have questions? Give us a call at (866) 521-7655.

Ready to send us some details and get started? Visit Medicare.Allsup.com.

How to Work the System so the System Helps You Work

2017 October 11

By Tai Prohaska

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries have worked and paid into the program an average 22 years. That’s more than two decades of having a “vocational identity” of being a nurse, a construction worker, housekeeper, or any other of the more than 13,000 professions listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

Vocational identity reflects a stable pattern of interests, goals, abilities, and talents and is the self-view associated with work. That’s why when professional educators are asked what they do, they often respond with, “I am a teacher,” rather than, “I teach.”

So, it’s no surprise that people who cannot continue working due to a disability often grieve the loss of their work life. At Allsup, 56 percent of the applicants we serve indicate they want to go back to work someday. However, very few do.

Most who apply for SSDI are unaware of the support they can receive to return to work.  empower by Allsup® makes sure people know their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as Social Security’s Ticket to Work program at the very beginning of the SSDI application process. This helps them envision a path back to employment.

To make the most of the program, it helps to understand these Ticket to Work basics:

  • Employment Networks (ENs). More than 600 ENs across the U.S. offer a range of free support services through the Ticket program. Click here for more information on returning to work with SSDI.
  • Trial Work Period (TWP). Individuals can keep their SSDI cash benefits while testing their ability to work for nine months. They have a safety net where they can test their ability to work again and receive full SSDI benefits in addition to their job earnings.
  • Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). After the TWP ends, individuals receive full SSDI benefits for the first three months of this 36-month period in addition to job earnings. After that, they are eligible to receive SSDI benefits for any month job earnings drop below substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2017, SGA is $1,170 for non-blind individuals and $1,950 for blind individuals.
  • Continuing Medicare Coverage. After the TWP ends, Medicare coverage continues for up to 93 consecutive months. Individuals still receive coverage during this time even if SSDI payments end.
  • Expedited Reinstatement of Benefits. If individuals become unable to work again within five years after the EPE ends, they can request to have their SSDI benefits restarted without filing a new application.
  • Continuing Disability Review (CDR) Protection. Social Security periodically reviews disability claims. As part of the Ticket to Work program, individuals are exempt from medical CDRs and their status remains unchanged.

Disability Employment Awareness Month in October is a good time to share this information with individuals and organizations to help people with disabilities work the system to go back to work.

Creating Disability-Inclusive Workplaces

2017 October 4

By Zach Baldwin, Director of Outreach, American Association of People with Disabilities

The month of October marks National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), meant to celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities and educate employers and the public about the value of a diverse workforce inclusive of the skills and talents of people with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, aimed to eliminate discrimination and assure equal access to public accommodations, state and local governments, communication, transportation, AND employment for all individuals with disabilities. Yet, today, the labor force participation rate for Americans with disabilities is less than one-third the rate of those without a disability, and the unemployment rate is nearly twice as high for individuals with disabilities. Companies have advanced their diversity strategies, but the ADA goal of economic self-sufficiency remains elusive while improved employment outcomes for people with disabilities remains unchanged 27 years after the passage of the ADA.

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is working to ensure people with disabilities are not denied their fair chance to pursue the American Dream through our programs and initiatives. One such program, the Disability Equality Index (DEI), focuses specifically on disability inclusion in corporate workplaces.

The DEI is a joint initiative of AAPD and the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN). Developed by the DEI Advisory Committee, a diverse group of business leaders, policy experts, and disability advocates, the DEI is a national, transparent benchmarking tool that offers businesses an opportunity to receive an objective score, on a scale of zero to 100, on their disability inclusion policies and practices. It is an aspirational, educational, recognition tool that is intended to help companies identify opportunities for continued improvement and help build a company’s reputation as an employer of choice.

Below are a few highlights from the 2017 DEI:

  • Of the 110 companies participating in 2017, a record 68 employers earned 100 ratings – the highest score possible; this is a substantial increase from 2015 when 19 (out of 80) companies received 100 ratings.
  • The companies that participated in the 2017 DEI represent 21 different business sectors.
  • The corporations taking part in the 2017 DEI have a total U.S. workforce of roughly 7.2 million workers – or 5 percent of all of American workers.
  • The publicly-held corporations taking part in the 2017 DEI account for approximately $6 trillion in market value.
  • The industries with the most corporations participating in the 2017 DEI are: Financial Services (15% of reporting companies); Technology (10% of reporting companies); and Healthcare and Insurance (both accounting for 9%, or a total of 18%, of companies reporting).

Registration for the 2018 DEI opened earlier this month. Interested companies can learn more and register to participate in the survey by visiting www.disabilityequalityindex.org/register.

AAPD is a convener, connector, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As a national cross-disability rights organization, AAPD advocates for full civil rights for the over 56 million Americans with disabilities by promoting equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. Learn more at www.aapd.com.

Triage and the Mass Casualties of Social Security Disability

2017 September 20

By Tai Prohaska

In mass casualty situations, such as natural disasters, triage identifies those who will die without immediate care and those whose injuries are less severe. By tending to the most severely injured first, triage saves more lives.

For the Social Security Administration (SSA), the potential mass casualties are the 1.1 million people stuck in the disability hearing backlog, waiting to learn if they will receive benefits. SSA reports that 8,699 people died while waiting for their hearing in fiscal year 2016.

The Compassionate Allowance (CAL) program is one of SSA’s early triage systems, designed to identify and speed up benefits for individuals with the most severely disabling and life-threatening conditions.

But a recent Government Accountability (GAO) report concluded that many people who qualify for the CAL program may be overlooked when they first apply.

People need help when they apply for disability

Most people are denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) at the application level, and are thrust into a backlog, where they wait through the first appeal level and then an average 596 days for a hearing. The wait is 700 or more days at 20 hearing offices, including Miami (759 days), Philadelphia (737 days) and New York (730 days).

The CAL program includes 228 conditions that qualify for expedited processing, providing disability benefits in a matter of days instead of months or years. However, SSA primarily relies on software that searches for key words in claims to identify applications as eligible for CAL. If claimants include incorrect or misspelled information or don’t describe their condition using just the right words, the software may not flag a CAL condition.  According to the GAO report, SSA frequently has relied on disability advocacy organizations to bring conditions to its attention and may overlook disabling conditions for individuals who have no advocate groups supporting their particular disease.

Get help right away

One way to ensure the right level of triage occurs and allocates resources to those who need it most, is to have help early. Allsup provides a free online screening tool―empower by Allsup®, that immediately helps individuals learn their eligibility and the likelihood of obtaining SSDI benefits, guides them through the application process, identifies eligibility for SSA’s expedited programs such as CAL.

The SSA is working to reduce the backlog. The agency reports that when national hearing wait times reach an average 270 days, they will consider the backlog eliminated. That may be 270 days more than a person with a CAL condition can afford to wait.

Give a Squat About Pain During Pain Awareness Month

2017 September 18

Penney Cowan, Founder and CEO, American Chronic Pain Association

When is the last time you did a wall squat until it burned? Imagine living with that burning pain day in and day out. People with pain do it every day. Many of them lead lives like anybody else. Pain does not stop them from going to work, taking care of their family, enjoying a fall day. People with pain are some of the strongest, most determined people you will meet. Let’s give them the credit they deserve for living life despite pain―Give a Squat 4 Pain.

In 2001, the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) created Partners for Understanding Pain and declared September Pain Awareness Month. Over the next seven years, ACPA and Partners led the effort to raise awareness about understanding all the issues of living with pain, and continued working to establish and grow September as Pain Awareness Month. We succeeded, and now it’s time to reach even more. With more than 100 million people living with some form of pain, understanding of the challenges of living with pain is important to everyone in the U.S.

We are encouraging individuals to do a wall squat to begin to understand pain. Wall squats are difficult and painful, yet if you get a group of people together to challenge one another to see who can hold the wall squat position longest, you will see some smiling, grimacing, straining and a variety of expressions. What you will not see is the pain they are experiencing, even though it is very real. Our hope is to help people gain a deeper understanding of pain, and realize that even when you cannot see it, it is very real.

Anyone can show they care about the people they know and love who are living with chronic pain. Post a picture of yourself or a group doing a wall squat, share it on social media and challenge your network to do the same.

Join the effort on Twitter by using #giveasquat4pain or click here. Give a Squat 4 Pain and support the ACPA and what we have been doing help people with pain live richer fuller lives since 1980! Thank you for your support!

Employer Healthcare Plan Or Medicare?

2017 September 13

By Tricia

Allsup

For many reasons, more and more people are continuing to work once they are Medicare-eligible at age 65. That‘s when they have to make an important decision: Should I continue on my employer’s healthcare plan, or is it time to switch to Medicare?

Staying on your company plan used to be the best way to go. Today, that decision isn’t so automatic. Don’t just assume that coverage is better through your company plan. Employers are financially strapped because of ever-rising healthcare costs, and their plans may have higher premiums, more expensive co-pays and less coverage than Medicare.

There have been a lot of changes in the Medicare program in recent years. It depends on which Medicare plan you choose, but many offer lower premiums than comparable coverage from your employer.

I’m not suggesting that you immediately cancel your employer plan and enroll in Medicare. I do, however, urge you to take the time and investigate which plan is best for you. Medicare and all other health insurance plans are complex and can be difficult to understand. Fortunately, you can get help navigating your options.

The Allsup Medicare Advisor can help you make an informed decision. Give us a call and one of our trained specialists will compare your employer’s plan with available Medicare plans and help steer you in the right direction.

We will:

  • Assess your specific needs – including healthcare requirements, your doctors, prescriptions and budget.
  • Identify available Medicare plans in your area that best fit your specific needs.
  • Help you understand complex Medicare issues, such as the “donut hole” and coordinating benefits when you’re still working.
  • Prepare a customized report of plan options and benefits that offers a comparative look at premiums, deductibles, co-pays and coverage limits.
  • Provide enrollment assistance in most Medicare plans.
  • Serve as a resource if your Medicare needs change.

On Old Memories and New Technology

2017 September 11

By The Old Sarge

More years ago than I care to admit, I worked as a copy boy at a daily newspaper. These were the days of hot type and cold coffee in the newsroom. Reporters still stuck their press passes in the brim of their fedoras, and the editors would bark orders to their reporters with Campbell soup cans and string.

OK, not really, but you get the idea. It was more than a few years before technology encroached into the newsroom. Let’s just say that it took a while to segue from hot type to internet hot links.

Today, technology has nearly destroyed the newspaper industry. Why wait for Saturday to get Friday’s box score? When I couldn’t get my hands on a baseball schedule as a youngster, I would call the sports desk to find out when my guys were playing. Kids now just Google to get the date, time, starting pitchers, the ages of the manager’s children, the color of the shortstop’s eyes and the predicted humidity index at game time. By the way, when did “Google” morph into a verb?

CEO Jim Allsup didn’t have a lot of technology at his disposal in 1984 when he created the industry of nationwide, non-attorney Social Security disability representatives. His office was his kitchen table and the latest technology was his blue Remington typewriter―manual, of course.

Times have changed. More than 33 years later, Jim’s company has helped 275,000 people receive the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits they paid for when they were still able to work.

Technology rules at Allsup. We use everything from the highest of high-speed claims processing to the most secure of secure communications to serve our customers. Nothing, however, better illustrates how we have embraced technology than empower by Allsup®.

empower by Allsup is a dual-purpose online software tool that helps you determine if you may qualify for SDI benefits, and helps you avoid getting caught in a bureaucratic maze when you apply for disability. It will even help you return to work if you’re able to do so.

It’s powerful, it’s unique and it’s patented. More importantly, empower by Allsup is the product of a huge financial investment, a lot of work, and more than 30 years of hard-earned SSDI experience. No one knows SSDI better, and empower by Allsup places that knowledge directly into your hands. With easy online access, it gives you 24/7 support and a better chance for your SSDI application to be approved the first time around.

Check out empower by Allsup and get it right the first time—thanks to modern technology.

How to avoid or endure the disability backlog

2017 September 8

By Tai Prohaska

There are almost 1.1 million Americans with severe disabilities waiting about 600 days for a hearing to determine if they will receive Social Security disability benefits. About 70 percent of them are former workers.

They paid into the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) system an average of 22 years so they could receive a monthly income if they became too sick or injured to continue working. They didn’t plan to become disabled. They also didn’t plan on being stuck for years in a backlog for disability benefits

“People are losing their homes, they’re dying, and they’re going bankrupt,” said Lisa Ekman, from the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. She testified during the recent  House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee hearing on Determining Eligibility for Disability Benefits: Challenges Facing the Social Security Administration. Ekman also suggested more help from SSA for those when they first apply for SSDI benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that 8,699 people died while waiting for their hearing last year. That works out to one person dying in the backlog every hour.

I hope the following information will help people avoid or at least endure the backlog. Here are tips on surviving the SSDI application process.

Get expert help when you apply for disability.  Individuals with SSDI representation from the beginning are more likely to be among the 33 percent who get approved at the initial level. This means you typically can get your benefits in three to six months, and avoid the backlog altogether. Very important: a representative can also help you determine if you qualify for benefits and for expedited processing.

Determine if you have a compassionate allowance (CAL) condition. The SSA established the CAL program in 2008 to fast track claimants with certain conditions. However, a General Accounting Office study indicates this program doesn’t always work well. Without understanding these issues and how to present your medical information to SSA, the agency may overlook your CAL condition and you may not receive expedited processing.

Determine if you are eligible for the SSA’s Wounded Warrior program. Military service members who become disabled on active military service on or after Oct. 1, 2001, and veterans with a VA compensation rating of 100 percent P&T (permanent and total) can receive expedited processing.

Determine if you have a Dire Need Case. Your claim may be expedited if you are unable to obtain food, cannot afford or access needed medical care, are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

Continue getting medical treatment.  Applicants stuck in the backlog often lose their health insurance. However, continuing medical treatment is critical to maintaining your health, as well as providing evidence to support your SSDI claim. Click here for links to healthcare assistance in your state.

Know you are not alone. Connecting with people who have similar experiences can improve mental and physical health. To share your story, follow and post to Banish the Backlog on Facebook.

A Shorter Path to Victory for Veterans with Disabilities

2017 August 31

By Brett Buchanan

Help appears to be finally on the horizon for those waiting for a final decision on their Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims.

In a seemingly rare bi-partisan effort, Congress passed and the president signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, created to reduce wait times for veterans appealing their denied claims for VA disability benefits.

More than 400,000 former GIs now wait an average of five years for a final decision on their disability claims, but lawmakers say they want to reduce that to a more manageable 12 months. A veteran seeking disability benefits must prove his or her disabilities occurred or were made worse while serving. Often, the claims include more than one problem for which the vet is seeking separate decisions.

Enactment of the bill does not mean immediate improvements, however. The VA has indicated it will take the agency at least 18 months to adapt the current system and it’s unlikely those currently in the appeals backlog will benefit by the new process.

Under the legislation, veterans will have one of three paths if they choose to appeal their claims. They can appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals; request that a higher level VA adjudicator review and make a decision on the appeal; or provide new information and appeal to the same VA adjudicator who made the original decisions on the case.

The bill also requires the VA to provide more regular updates about the status of their disability claim.

It will take awhile to see the benefits of this change. In the meantime, if you’re thinking about appealing your VA disability claim because it was denied, or because you expected a higher rating, check out the Allsup Veterans Disability Appeals Service. We may be able to help you receive the benefits you were promised when you first put on your battle dress.

A Pain that Makes You Want to Die

2017 August 24

Beth Seickel felt like she wanted to die last week. A trauma nurse with 30 years of experience, and diagnosed 10 years ago with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), she has seen and endured pain before. But a recent fall triggered a flare.

“It was like being in prison and they’re throwing acid on you non-stop,” said Seickel. “It was torture. I couldn’t even talk.”

RSD, also known as chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), is characterized by one of the most severe levels of pain―42 out of a possible 50 on the McGill University Pain Scale, according to the RSD Syndrome Association (RSDSA). With CRPS/RSD, the nervous and immune systems malfunction as they respond to tissue damage from trauma. The nerves misfire, sending constant pain signals to the brain. Any type of trauma, such as stubbing your toe, or getting injured from a fall can set off flares of excruciating pain.

A small percentage of those with CRPS/RSD take their own lives. RSDSA notes that suicides are almost always the result of complex issues beyond the fact of physical pain. The organization provides resources available for suicide prevention and aftermath.

Last week, Beth was in the ICU. This week, gritting through the pain and a bout of pneumonia, she is preparing for the second annual RSDSA Walk on Sept. 9, in Long Island, New York.

With a passion that only someone who has been affected by the disease could match, Seickel is committed to raising funds and awareness of the complexities and challenges of RSD/CRPS. They include difficulties with diagnosis, differences in the problems faced by adults and youths, health insurance coverage for medications and treatments that are not FDA approved, and difficulty obtaining Social Security disability benefits.

As co-chair of the annual RSDSA Walk, she wants to give back to an organization and community that has given her and thousands of others, validation and support. The goal is to raise awareness, fund better treatments, and to find a cure for the disabling neuro-inflammatory disorder. Despite studies that show an estimated 50,000 people join the CRPS population annually, CRPS/RSD is classified as a rare disease by the FDA.

Participants can walk, run, roll, or use whatever method works best for them, to participate. Educational resources, sponsors, and health professionals will be on hand, along with activities for children. Following is a barbeque lunch to encourage socializing with other CRPS patients, care givers and medical professionals. People outside of the Long Island area can register as a virtual walker, or you can register at the event.