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Event Summary

The growth in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) enrollment has been the subject of heated debate over the last month. At a symposium on Capitol Hill on Friday morning, leading experts discussed the rise in SSDI enrollment and debated the drivers of that increase.

Some panelists, including the Social Security Administration’s Stephen Goss, contended that demographic changes such as aging and women entering the labor force are largely to blame. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School professor Mark Duggan and Cornell University professor Richard Burkhauser, however, argued that much of the growth cannot be explained by demographic changes and must be attributed to the structure of the program itself.

Burkhauser analyzed the medical conditions of individuals applying for benefits and discussed the changes in those conditions over time. He argued that SSDI’s incentives do not encourage employers to accommodate the work limitations of their employees and suggested that the Supplemental Security Income program should be block granted to the states.

The final panel detailed the positive effects of work participation on the health and well-being of disability applicants. Panelists described how interventions that occur early in the onset of a work limitation can substantially reduce the movement of employees into the SSDI program, which positively impacts the potential applicant and reduces program growth. Finally, Kim Burton of the UK Center for Health and Social Care Research detailed specific reforms that the UK has pursued, explaining key lessons that are relevant to the US situation.
–Brad Wassink

Event Description

Disability program expenditures and applications are rising at a rapid pace. The Social Security trustees report predicts that absent change, the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) trust fund will be insolvent by 2016. These realities point to the need for fundamental changes to the way disability is insured and managed.

This first day of a two-day conference will feature three panels. Panel A will discuss the causes of SSDI program growth and its implications for the future solvency of the SSDI trust fund. Panel B will then discuss the extent to which the SSDI program enrolls individuals capable of full- or part-time work. Finally, Panel C will discuss the effects of increased work participation on the health and well-being of disability applicants and beneficiaries.  A full-form agenda can be downloaded here.

Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


8:15 AM

8:30 AM
Topic A: The current federal disability growth trajectory

Mark Duggan, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Stephen Goss, Social Security Administration

Roger Mahan, Office of the Majority Leader, US House of Representatives
Kathy Ruffing, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Henry Olsen, AEI

9:45 AM
Topic B: Who enrolls in Social Security Disability Insurance?
Opening Remarks:
Richard Burkhauser, AEI

Michael Donnelly, Kansas Rehabilitation Service
Dorcas Hardy, Social Security Administration
Bryon Macdonald, World Institute on Disability
Bob Steggert, Marriott International

Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution

11:15 AM
Topic C: The effects of work participation on the health and well-being of disability applicants and beneficiaries

Opening Remarks:
Kim Burton, Center for Health and Social Care Research, United Kingdom

Jennifer Christian, Webility! Corporation
Robert E. Drake, Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College

Ron Haskins, Brookings Institution

12:30 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Michelle Hays at [email protected], 414-906-1600 or Brad Wassink at [email protected], 202.862.7197.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

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