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PNS Daily Newscast - April 24, 2019 


The Supreme Court considers U.S. Census citizenship question – we have a pair of reports. Also on the Wednesday rundown: A look at how poor teacher pay and benefits can threaten preschoolers' success. And the Nevada Assembly votes to restore voting rights for people who've served their time in prison.

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TN Group: Process for Getting Disability Benefits "Broken "

In 2017, it's estimated that more than 9,500 Tennesseans died while waiting for their Social Security Disability benefit appeals to be heard. (Courtney Keating/Getty Images)
In 2017, it's estimated that more than 9,500 Tennesseans died while waiting for their Social Security Disability benefit appeals to be heard. (Courtney Keating/Getty Images)
February 27, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - As National Disability Awareness Month begins this week, some Tennessee groups want lawmakers to focus less on proclamations and more on transparency as an independent review of the state's Disability Determination Services moves forward.

An investigation of more than five years of data revealed that some doctors who speed applications through the process are making big paychecks. As current and former personnel speak up about what they call a "cash-register" system, advocates for people with disabilities are expressing concern for those whose claims have been denied.

Brandon Brown, executive director of Empower Tennessee, one of six Centers for Independent Living across the state, contended that the "pay-by-case" model isn't working.

"At the end of the day, you're dealing with people's lives and livelihood," he said. "There seems to be a system in which profit is gained from the health or lack of health of other people."

Tennessee doctors denied 72 percent of all disability claims in 2017. The Tennessee Department of Human Services, which oversees the disability program, released a statement that said, "We have no reason to believe that doctors that average faster reviews are more prone to have errors in their reviews."

The investigation found seven high-volume doctors who each billed for more than $1 million between 2013 and 2018. It found that more than half of all contract physicians in Tennessee outpaced the federal standard of one-and-a-half cases per hour.

Brown, whose organization is part of the Disability Coalition of Tennessee, said the system is broken.

"Certainly [we] want to make sure the people who are eligible for those services and need those services receive those services, and we also want to make sure that those who are not, do not," he said. "Seeing that there is a per-case rate doesn't seem like it is set up for the well-being of the people who are applying."

Whistleblowers in the initial investigation included Dr. John Mather, a former medical consultant for the Social Security Administration. Mather said he was terminated in 2017 after he questioned why some doctors were reviewing a high volume of cases.

Antionette Kerr, Public News Service - TN