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How Will New Social Security Regulations Affect My Disability Claim?

Posted on in Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_disability-claim-Chicago_20170326-133634_1.jpgSocial Security recently announced major changes to its rules for handling disability insurance claims. The new regulations, which apply to claims filed on or after March 27, 2017, affect how Social Security administrative law judges (ALJs) must weigh evidence provided by different medical sources in determining whether an applicant meets the legal definition of disabled.

Abolishing the “Treating Source Rule”

One of the biggest changes is Social Security's decision to abolish its longstanding “treating source rule.” This rule basically said that an ALJ must defer to the medical opinions of your treating physician, provided they were supported by “objective medical evidence.” In other words, the ALJ did not have to accept your doctor's unsubstantiated opinions at face value. But if there were test results or other medical records backing up your treating physician's diagnosis, the ALJ had to afford these medical judgments “significant weight or provide "good reasons” for not doing so.

Under the new rules, however, your treating physician is no longer afforded special consideration. The ALJ must now weigh the “persuasiveness” of a variety of medical sources, not just your regular doctor. This includes doctors who may have only examined you once or twice, as well as state agency physicians who make a determination about your disability claim based solely on reviewing your medical records.

The goal of the new rule, according to Social Security, is to emphasize “supportability and consistency” of medical opinions. Only if conflicting medical opinions are deemed equally “supportable and consistent” will a Social Security ALJ look to other factors, including the longstanding relationship between the claimant and his or her treating physician.

Consideration of Non-Physician Sources

Social Security has also broadened its definition of “acceptable medical sources” when assessing a disability claim. Under the new regulations, an ALJ may consider findings made by a physician assistant or advance practice registered nurse and, in some cases, licensed audiologists and optometrists. However, other non-physician sources, including chiropractors, licensed clinical social workers, and registered nurses, are still not considered acceptable medical sources.

Additionally, while Social Security will not give any “special weight” to disability decisions made by other federal agencies, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, an ALJ will consider any “supporting evidence” provided by an applicant to the other agency.

Will Illinois Judges Accept the New Rules?

It is important to keep in mind these are regulations adopted by Social Security. Congress has not amended the Social Security Act, and federal courts remain bound by certain judicial precedents. Indeed, the treating physician rule came about following a series of court rulings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is possible judges in Illinois—including the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago—may not accept certain decisions made under the new regulations.

The ever-changing nature of the law in this area emphasizes the importance of working with a qualified Chicago social Security Disability attorney. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, today if you need help dealing with Social Security.



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