TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Christy Gibson on Jan 16, 2015

News: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Social Security will stop seizing tax refunds for debts: Last Spring, Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin announced that SSA would stop seizing the tax refunds of individuals with overpayments from more than a decade ago. On Monday, January 12, 2015, the agency announced that it will continue to suspend this program this tax season. More information can be found here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/social-security-will-stop-seizing-tax-refunds-to-collect-old-debts/

New House rule may result in Social Security cuts in 2016: The House adopted a rule last week that will prevent the routine transfer of tax revenue between the retirement and disability funds, upping the chances of a crisis for the latter in late 2016. More here: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/house-rule-sets-election-year-battle-social-security-28048810

Other tidbits:

Higher tax cap. Most workers pay 6.2 percent of every paycheck into the Social Security system until their earnings exceed the tax cap. The maximum taxable earnings will increase this year from $117,000 in 2014 to $118,500 in 2015. About 10 million of the 168 million workers who pay into Social Security are expected to face higher taxes as a result of this change. People who earn more than the taxable maximum do not pay Social Security taxes on that amount or have those earnings factored into their future Social Security payments.

Larger earnings limits. Social Security beneficiaries who are under age 66 can earn as much as $15,720 in 2015, before $1 in benefits will be withheld for every $2 earned above the limit. Retirees who will turn 66 in 2015 and have signed up for Social Security can earn up to $41,880 before every $3 earned above the limit will result in one benefit dollar being withheld. However, once a retiree turns age 66 there is no limit on earnings and Social Security payments are recalculated to give the retiree credit for the withheld benefits.

Your statement might be in the mail. If you will turn age 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 or 60 this year and don’t have a Social Security online account, you can expect to receive a paper Social Security statement that lists your earnings history, taxes paid and expected benefit about 3 months before your birthday. And after age 60 workers will receive a statement annually. The SSA expects to send nearly 48 million Social Security statements each year. These mailings, which were sent annually to all workers age 25 and older between 1999 and 2011, were suspended in April 2011 to save money. Statements are also available online at any time via socialsecurity.gov/myaccount, and 14 million people have created personalized accounts using this service.

The maximum benefit increases.The maximum possible Social Security payment for a worker who signs up at full retirement age will be $2,663 per month in 2015, up $21 from $2,642 in 2014.

Video teleconferences (VTC): Prior to September 8, 2014, SSA notified claimants of the right to object to a hearing by VTC in the notice of hearing, sent after an ALJ was assigned to the case and after the hearing was scheduled. Under those procedures, the claimant could submit an objection to appearing at the hearing by VTC any time before or at the hearing. Because a claimant could submit an objection on short notice, hearing offices frequently lost hearing time slots, as well as other resources used to schedule and conduct the hearing. Additionally, some claimants and appointed representatives were misusing the procedures to forum shop for ALJs with higher allowance rates.

To address these types of issues, SSA changed its procedures for offering the claimant the right to object to appearing at a hearing by VTC. Most importantly, on or after September 8, 2014, the hearing office provides a claimant 30 days to object to appearing at a hearing by VTC in the acknowledgement of hearing. The hearing office sends this notice before an ALJ is assigned to the case and before a hearing is scheduled. There is more information in HALLEX here: http://ssa.gov/OP_Home/hallex/I-05/I-5-1-21.html

2015 COLAs:  In other news, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will receive a 1.7 percent Cost of Living Adjustment or COLA for 2015.  The SSA Fact Sheet regarding 2014 SSA changes is found at:http://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/colafacts2015.html

The Health Insurance Marketplace (healthcare.gov) is open for enrollment through February 15, 2015.

Most Title II recipients have a two-year waiting period for Medicare benefits. Sometimes their claims are adjudicated and approved before that time is up. For those individuals in the waiting period, you should know that they may be eligible for help paying for private health insurance through the new Marketplace. As long as their household income is over 100% of the federal poverty level, they can qualify for a subsidy to help pay for this insurance. For example, a one-person household who received Title II benefits in the amount of $1000 per month could pay as little as $20 per month for private health insurance until they are eligible for Medicare coverage. They can apply at www.healthcare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596. To find out the approximate amount of the subsidy they may be eligible for before applying, they can go to http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/ or http://www.valuepenguin.com/ppaca/exchanges/tn

Help with Medicare Premiums, Deductibles and Co-Pays - Medicare Savings Plan applications (for QMB, SLMB, QDWI, or QI1) are now processed through TennCare and not DHS. To get an application, call the Tennessee Health Connection at 1-855-259-0701. An application for LIS (Extra Help) through SSA serves as a filing for MSP’s as well pursuant to the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) of 2008 (PL 110-275).

MIPPA establishes that effective January 1, 2010, a LIS application will initiate an application for the Medicare Savings Programs (MSP). The Social Security Administration (SSA) will team with the state Medicaid agencies to auto-initiate applications for MSP for LIS applicants. SSA will transmit specific LIS data to SSA Beneficiary Earnings and Data Exchange (BENDEX) on a daily basis to states beginning January 1, 2010. SSA will also transmit daily data on initial determination of LIS ‘Approvals and Denials’ only. Therefore effective 1/1/2010 DHS (now TennCare) will begin to process MSP applications using the information on the LIS applications. ‘Changes’ reported on LIS active cases will not be sent.

Application Filing Date

Section 1935 (a) of the Social Security Act established the MSP application date as the date the LIS application was filed with SSA. For tracking purposes, DHS will begin the 45 day timeliness count from the first day the application is transmitted to DHS. If the application is approved for SLMB or QI, the benefits will begin the date the LIS application was filed at the SSA office . If approved for QMB, the benefits will begin the month after the approval is authorized.

Other Resources

SSL Discussion List:  Non-government lawyers may sign up for the Social Security Law for Non-Government Lawyers (“SSL”) private mail discussion list with online archives and wiki by going to the following link:  https://sympa.theombudsman.com/sympa/info/ssl.  The discussion list is run by Georgia attorney Charles L. Martin, who concentrates his practice in Appeals Council and court briefs in Social Security disability claims.  Information about the discussion list, membership requirements and instructions for how non-government Social Security lawyers can apply for membership is available at the above-linked page. 

NOSSCR:  The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) website is another excellent resource, with coverage of Social Security Basics and up-to date information about Social Security News, Policy Updates and numerous Legal Resources:  www.nosscr.org

Eric Schnaufer’s Social Security Law Page: includes a list of recent SSA cases and links, all circuits:  http://www.schnaufer.com/

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