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New Social Security Policy Change an Indication of More to Come?

A decision last month by the Social Security Administration (SSA)  to add new medical conditions to its list of “Compassionate Allowance” conditions, including forms of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, may signal a change in how the government views and treats those illnesses from which a disproportionate number of long term care residents suffer.  While this change will by no means solve the growing long term care problem in this country, it just might be the beginning of a shift in thinking – maybe.

 Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability benefits are paid to those who have been deemed disabled and no longer able to work.  The application process, however, is a complex and drawn out one, often resulting in initial denial and then an appeal process that can take years.  However, approval often opens the door to other government benefits, such as Medicaid.and Medcare.  A decision of disability by Social Security is proof of disability for many other state and federal programs.

 The “Compassionate Allowance” program is Social Security’s attempt to streamline the process and recognize certain conditions that clearly result in disability without extensive medical documentation so that applicants can get much needed benefits quickly.  What is interesting is that Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (Alzheimer’s affecting those under age 65) and Mixed Dementia (persons suffering from dementia with more than one origin, eg. Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia) appear on the most recent list of 38 new conditions that the SSA deems to be so serious that it considers people with these diagnoses to “obviously meet disability standards”.

 One of the problems with the long term care system is that government benefits available to pay for care discriminate based on disease.  Alzheimer’s, Dementia and the like, that affect mental capabilities are so often treated differently than diseases and illnesses such as cancer, which are physical.  Medicare, for example, provides no coverage for long term care which is typically needed by sufferers of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  So when a government agency decides to include these illnesses in its list of “fast track” diseases it is noteworthy.  We’ll need much more than that to make a dent in the problem but you’ve got to start somewhere.  And Social Security is as good a place as any.