What Fresh Hell Is This?

December 26, 2014

The Trib Editorial Board is Misleading You. Again.

A couple of (at best) misleads in today's Tribune-Review.

From the editorial page of course:
The safety net against fraud and abuse in Social Security disability insurance payments is meaningless if the judges who rule in these matters more often than not simply pass the buck. That's among findings in an inspector general's report, which found that approval of “questionable” payments over the past seven years added up to $2 billion.

The analysis, requested by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, shows 44 administrative law judges (ALJs) with especially high rates of benefit approval wrongfully doled out millions to 24,900 applicants. That amounts to $45 million in alleged waste per judge, reports Rachel Greszler for The Daily Signal.
I'm not sure you caught the first very subtly hidden mislead there.  It's in the last sentence.  The last three words, in fact:
The Daily Signal
What is The Daily Signal, you might ask? Take a look at the webpage and then scroll all the way down to the bottom.  Find the link called About The Daily Signal.  If you click on it, you'll find this about half way down the page:
More and more people are grabbing bites of news from mobile devices on the go—and they need a place where they can find digestible, trusted news on the most important policy debate of the day.

That’s why the Heritage Foundation team created a digital-first, multimedia news platform called The Daily Signal.
There it is - Heritage Foundation. Now why would the Tribune-Review feel that you might not want to know that this info is from the Heritage Foundation?  Could it be the very old and very deep financial associations between the two?

Yea, that's my guess, as well.

But back to Ms Greszler's Heritage Foundation analysis.  You can see where the Braintrust gets its data when you read the first paragraph of the analysis:
More than $2 billion in “questionable” payments was paid out to nearly 25,000 Disability Insurance (DI) recipients, according to a recent report by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General. The report states that 44 Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) with particularly high numbers of decisions and high rates of benefit approval were responsible for wrongfully doling out the $2 billion in DI benefits to 24,900 individuals over the past seven years. On a per-judge basis, that’s $45 million in wasted taxpayer dollars, not including each ALJ’s annual salary of up to $167,000.
Ok, so here's the interesting part.  The links in the above were all taken from the original.  The second one (on the ALJ's salaries) works but the first one (on the report) doesn't.

Doesn't matter.  I found it anyway.

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that it's just a html glitch and not an attempt to hide the real report from you, the Trib's loyal readers.

But what does the report say, anyway?  Let's take a look at the summary. Here's what OIG was asked to do:
In a January 2014 letter, the Chairmen of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements asked us to identify ALJs who had 700 or more dispositions and allowance rates of 85 percent or higher in any 2 fiscal years (FY) from FYs 2007 through 2013.

After we identified the group of ALJs, the Chairmen asked us to review a sample of these ALJs’ allowances to determine whether the ALJs processed the cases according to Social Security Administration (SSA) policy. Finally, the Chairmen asked us to determine how SSA monitors the ALJ outliers and discuss any subsequent actions resulting from this monitoring.
And this is what they found (now pay attention):
Overall, we found that 44 ALJs (about 4 percent of the ALJs at the Agency) met the outlier criteria. We estimate that 38 of the 275 sample cases related to these 44 ALJs should not have been allowed. We also found the number of ALJ outliers and cases with quality issues had decreased in recent years, at a time when the Agency has increased monitoring and oversight of ALJ workloads.
Wow.  You would not have even guessed, after reading Greszler's analysis, that 44 ALJs are just 4% of the total number of ALJs, would you?  Or that only about 14% of the 275 sample cases they found shouldn't have been allowed.  Or that the report she's citing says that the "outliers" have decreased in recent years during a time of increased monitoring and oversight.

But what about the numbers?  The Trib braintrust says that those:
...“questionable” payments over the past seven years added up to $2 billion.
And Greszler says:
More than $2 billion in “questionable” payments was paid out to nearly 25,000 Disability Insurance (DI) recipients, according to a recent report by the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General.
What does the report say? Something slightly different:
From this feedback a review of earlier remand outcomes for these ALJs, we estimated that 38 of the 275 sample cases would have been denied or dismissed had they been part of a pre-effectuation review. Extrapolating these results to all the allowances by the 44 outlier ALJs over a 7-year period, we estimate they improperly allowed disability benefits on approximately 24,900 cases, resulting in questionable costs of about $2 billion.
Well, would you look at that. It was an estimate.

Sloppy work on the part of Heritage and the Trib's braintrust.  All they would have had to say is that the OIG estimated, based on an extrapolation of the results of 4% of the ALJs and 14% of a sampling of 275 cases, that there were improper payments of about $2 billion over 7 years.

By the way, did you note which 7 years would that be?  From the summary, we learn that it's 2007 to 2013.

From the report itself we learn:
We found that the number of outlier ALJs who met our criteria had decreased annually since FY 2009. While 32 ALJs met the criteria in FY 2009, the number decreased to 7 in FY 2013. (pg 7)
Hmm...tell me again what happened in 2009? Wasn't there a change of administration that took place early in that year, say in January?  And doesn't the report say that because of greater oversight the number of "outlier" ALJs decrease after 2009?

Wouldn't it have been soooo enlightening to have read that in Greszler's analysis at Heritage or the braintrust's editorial board press release.

It took me about an hour to research and write the above.  Maybe 90 minutes.  How was it that I was able to find the truth when either Rachel Greszler or the PR firm on the Trib editorial board, couldn't?

Either they missed something they shouldn't have OR they caught it and decided not to tell you anyway.

So which is it, incompetence or dishonesty?

1 comment:

Cirze said...

It's hardly sloppy work when it achieves your purpose.