State Illegally Denies Aid to Disabled Poor, Suit Contends
Advocates for poor people seeking disability benefits have filed a lawsuit charging that the state Department of Social Services has "illegally den[ied]" disability benefit requests "by manipulating medical evidence and ignoring the applicants' doctors," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on behalf of "thousands" of Californians who have been "improperly denied federal and state Supplemental Security Income of $700 a month," according to attorney Patricia Wall of the Homeless Action Center in Berkeley. According to the suit, the department has "routinely violat[ed] federal regulations that require the state to give preference to a diagnosis by a treating physician in deciding whether an applicant is disabled." The suit charges that the state instead "orders" poor applicants to go to one of the "small number of clinics that do business only with the government" and often "disregards the treating doctor's diagnosis or does not even attempt to obtain it." Furthermore, these "consultative examinations" given by the clinics are "brief and cursory and frequently find no disability." Robert Borton, a lawyer involved in the case, said the clinics that conduct the exams "are, in effect, on the [state] payroll. They're high-volume providers of this service to the state agency and the SSA. The exams are done too quickly, scheduled too close together and often don't have the advantage of existing medical records or background."
Wall, an attorney in the suit, said that patients who are denied SSI are not eligible for Medi-Cal. "There's a bias against the places where poor people get treated. A homeless person who's been treated in the San Francisco General Hospital emergency room dozens of times is sent to a consultative exam ... for a few minutes, and the doctor says this person's fine, when the records would show otherwise," she said. Lawyers in the suit, filed on behalf of seven plaintiffs who were denied SSI in San Francisco and Alameda counties, are seeking class-action status for the legal action. The suit also charges that the federal Social Security Administration has failed to "supervis[e] the state agency, which determines eligibility for the federal program." It asks the court to require both the state department and the SSA to stop using consultative exams and to "reconsider all applicants denied because of those exams." The Department of Social Services did not return the Chronicle's request for comment (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.