New system to speed benefits process

Social Security Administration expects to cut by 100 days the waiting period for individuals who apply for disability benefits once its new electronic claims system is finished in 2005.

“As it continues to roll out, we’ll see much more savings than now,” said Bill Gray, SSA’s deputy commissioner for systems.

A test site in North Carolina has shaved six days off the processing time. The disability process runs from when a person initially files a claim until a final decision is made on an appeal. Currently, the process can take longer than two years.

The electronic process will speed claims review and appeals decisions, and recipients will get benefits more quickly, Gray said.

It will replace the mostly paper process, which in recent years has bogged down, leading to a backlog of hundreds of thousands of claims. The average time to reach a decision on a simple new claim is 106 days, Gray said.

The Accelerated Electronic Disability System (AeDib) will move all components of disability claims adjudication and review to an electronic business process through an electronic disability folder.

The electronic folders will be accessible to all SSA local, regional and state disability determination offices, as well as to hearings and appeals offices, and quality assurance staff. Each office will be able to work on claims by accessing and retrieving information in the folder.

Easy access

Most of the time saved in the electronic process involves simple disability claims—the category under which most filers fall—that get approved without the need for appeals, Gray said.

“What you have is a decreasing number of people that are going through the entire process. So in some ways, the days saved up front are more important because they affect everybody,” he said.

The public does not see the AeDib system, but disability filers will interface with it when they apply for benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov. For disabled users applying online, the new system will comply with the accessibility requirements of Section 508, Gray said.

Implementing the system required SSA to conduct hardware upgrades at its state offices and install new software so information collected in field offices could be entered into AeDib, Gray said. SSA installed IBM AS400 servers in some states to replace old Wang processors.

All states were expected to complete the upgrade work by the end of April.

A main component of the electronic process is the electronic folder interchange, which lets SSA state offices download data into their disability case processing systems. “It just saves them a lot of keying and a lot of work,” Gray said. Currently, 18 states participate in the electronic folder interface, and every state will join later this year.

North Carolina, Illinois and California piloted the electronic folder. Mississippi and South Carolina initiated the national rollout in January, with Tennessee coming on board in late April. The document management architecture allows storage and viewing of unstructured data, such as images or information not found in defined data fields, as in a hospital report. Other states will follow every couple of weeks.

The system is running smoothly at five hearing offices, where appeals are considered, Gray said.
The incremental rollout will let SSA fix technical glitches before the system is in broad use. For instance, in the pilot, systems officials found that screens sometimes froze. And early users recommended changes to make the process easier to use.

SSA is building the largest imaging infrastructure in the world, Gray said. It will use Ascent Capture Platform from Kofax Image Products Inc. of Irvine, Calif., for scanning, and an interface developed by SSA technicians using IBM WebSphere to retrieve documents from the depository.

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