MILWAUKEE – It isn’t easy to be patient when you can’t work and you’re in pain, as Christine Morgan knows all too well.
Her chronic pain comes from fibromyalgia. Morgan, 60, also has spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces within the spine that pinches the nerves, most often in the lower back and neck. To top it off, she is diabetic, has kidney disease, high blood pressure and depression.
Yet Morgan has been turned down for Social Security Disability Insurance – twice. “They sent me a letter that said I wasn’t disabled,” she said.
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine examines to what extent and in which ways health care utilization — such as in-patient hospitalizations, emergency department use, and hospital readmission — reflects disease severity, disability, and ability to perform gainful activity. The committee that conducted the study was unable to find an association between health care utilization and disease severity as it relates to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) determination of severe impairment — an impairment or combination of impairments severe enough to prevent a person from performing any gainful activity regardless of age, education, or work experience.
Types of health care utilization vary with combinations of health conditions, and although there might be a connection between some types of utilization and impairment severity or disability, the committee could not make that specific connection on the basis of available data.
The SSA administers two programs that provide benefits based on disability. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program provides disability benefits to people under the full retirement age who are no longer able to work because of a disabling medical condition or a terminal illness. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a means-tested income-assistance program for disabled, blind, and aged people who have limited income and resources regardless of their prior participation in the labor force.