Monday, June 4, 2012

Why Bother With An Exam By IMA?

When filing for Social Security Disability ("SSD") benefits, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") usually asks claimants to be examined by one of its doctors in what is referred to as a consultative examination ("CE"). In New York, you will probably be sent to a doctor from Industrial Medicine Associates (“IMA”) for the CE.

The SSA requires a CE in the vast majority of cases even though the regulations actually permit CEs in very limited circumstances. If a CE is actually needed, then it is supposed to be performed by a treating doctor. The SSA leads claimants to believe that their SSD application will be denied if they refuse to attend the CE.

A CE is a single exam, with a vague opinion regarding a claimant’s functionality. The courts have ruled that a CE opinion is usually entitled to little or no weight. Therefore, why do we as tax payers pay millions of dollars for CEs?

A 54 year old former electrician retained me after the SSA denied his SSD application. The opinion from the IMA CE included that the claimant must avoid even mild exertion, which indicates that he could not even do sedentary work. Moreover, the IMA CE concluded that the claimant had “moderate” limitations walking, standing, and sitting. Light work requires frequent standing and walking. A moderate limitation would be inconsistent with light work, which requires 6 hours of being on one’s feet out of 8. A moderate limitation could also be inconsistent with sedentary work, which only requires 2 hours of being on one’s feet out of 8. Similarly, a moderate limitation of lifting and carrying would be inconsistent with light work, which requires lifting 20 lbs. A moderate limitation may be consistent with sedentary work, which only requires lifting 10 pounds.

Under the SSA medical-vocational rules, the claimant had to be found disabled even if able to do sedentary or light work. Thus, the claimant had to be able to do medium work, which requires lifting up to 50 pounds, not to be found disabled. Although the CE opinion described above showed the claimant could not do sedentary work, let alone light work, the State agency had denied the application.

When I was retained, I secured a report from the claimant’s orthopedist, which specified the claimant lacked the ability to lift, carry, walk, stand, and sit needed to do sedentary work. I submitted that report when I appealed the State agency decision to the SSA. The SSA approved the application today without a hearing based on the treating orthopedist’s opinion.

The question arises why wasn’t the application approved based upon the IMA CE? The great majority of CE opinions contend that claimants are not disabled, which are accepted as the basis for denying applications. Why then, in the rare situation where a CE shows a claimant is disabled does the State agency still deny the application? What is the purpose of an IMA CE when regardless of its opinion it will be used to deny an application? What is the purpose of an IMA CE when the SSA rejects it as a one time exam that the regulations require be given little weight?

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article that tried to blame the SSA’s financial problems on attorneys representing disabled people. Perhaps that paper’s resources would be more productively spent directing its attention to the CE boondoggle. Whereas attorneys are making sure that the rules and regulations are being applied, CEs are being ordered by the tens of thousands in violation of the rules and regulations.

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