The Social Security Administration announced yesterday that it will resume its controversial review of disability cases in July to determine whether beneficiaries should be removed from the rolls.
Acting Commissioner Martha A. McSteen told reporters yes- terday, "We really are going to make the disability program work this time. We are going to be fair . . . . "
The disability reviews, which Congress mandated in 1980, were suspended about a year ago by Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret M. Heckler after a review of almost 1.2 million cases produced a public uproar.
Organizations representing the disabled charged that hundreds of thousands of people had been thrown off the rolls after unfair and cursory reviews that were sparked largely by a desire to save money. Of the 1.2 million persons whose cases were reviewed, 491,000 were ordered off the rolls, but 214,000 of them were restored after appeals to the department. Many of the 277,000 people who were removed have court appeals pending.
The Social Security Administration also published proposed regulations yesterday explaining how it plans to carry out a 1984 law that said that in most cases, people cannot be removed from the disability rolls unless there is clear evidence that their medical condition has improved.
The medical-improvement requirement was added after Congress and several courts decided, in effect, that evaluators were rushing to a judgment that people could work, even though there was no evidence that their condition had improved since they were first found eligible.
Eileen Sweeney, a staff attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center, criticized the proposed rules, saying that they would allow reviewers to evaluate a person's impairment, rather than whether his condition has improved.
Sweeney contended this proce- dure inevitably would prejudice those making the reviews. If they thought the person could work, she said, they could try to fit the person into certain exceptions that would allow him to be removed from the rolls. The exceptions involve cases in which new diagnostic tests show that the person was not as disabled as originally thought or in which new medical or vocational techniques can restore his ability to work.
Sweeney also charged that the regulations would introduce tougher medical criteria into the disability review process.
McSteen, however, contended that the proposed regulations would combine common sense with compassion.
McSteen said the agency must be able to produce substantial new evidence of a medical improvement before a person can be removed from the rolls.
McSteen said the 1984 law requires the agency to promulgate 12 regulations. So far, four have been published -- on multiple impairments, trial work for disabled welfare clients, new standards on mental impairments and yesterday's on medical improvement. McSteen said she expects to publish the other eight by the end of May. This will give the agency time to publish the rules in final form and resume its reviews by July, she said.