Statement on Signing the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984

October 9, 1984

I am pleased to sign into law H.R. 3755, the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984. This legislation, which has been formulated with the support of the administration and passed by unanimous vote in both Houses of Congress, should restore order, uniformity, and consensus in the disability program. It maintains our commitment to treat disabled American citizens fairly and humanely while fulfilling our obligation to the Congress and the American taxpayers to administer the disability program effectively.

When I took office on January 20, 1981, my administration inherited the task of implementing the continuing disability reviews required by the 1980 Disability Amendments which had been enacted and signed into law during the previous administration. Soon after the Department of Health and Human Services began the mandatory reviews, we found that trying to implement the new law's requirements within the framework of the old, paper-oriented review process was causing hardships for beneficiaries. Accordingly, back in 1982, the Department began a long series of administrative reforms designed to make the disability review process more humane and people-oriented. These reforms included providing face-to-face meetings between beneficiaries and Social Security Administration (SSA) claims representatives at the very start of the review process.

These initial steps were followed by further important reforms announced by Secretary Heckler in June of 1983, including:

  • classifying additional beneficiaries as permanently disabled, thus exempting them from the 3-year review;

  • temporarily exempting from review two-thirds of cases of individuals with mental impairments while the decisionmaking standards were being revised; and

  • accelerating a top-to-bottom review of disability policies by SSA and appropriate outside experts.

While those June 1983 reforms went a long way towards humanizing the process, by the spring of 1984, it became apparent that legislation was needed to end the debate and confusion over what standard should be used in conducting continuing disability reviews. The administration worked with the Congress to develop this consensus legislation and, in the interim, took the additional step of suspending the periodic disability reviews pending implementation of new disability legislation.

One indication of the complexity of the issues involved is the fact that Congress held more than 40 hearings on the disability review process over a 3-year period before arriving at a consensus on this legislation.

One significant provision of H.R. 3755 is the so-called medical improvement standard that sets forth the criteria SSA must apply when deciding whether a disability beneficiary is still disabled. The standard this new legislation would establish for future determinations will restore the uniformity that is so essential to a nationwide program.

Another provision in H.R. 3755 would extend temporarily the ability of a Social Security disability beneficiary who has decided to appeal a decision that his disability has ended to have benefits continued up to the decision of an administrative law judge. This will prevent undue hardship to beneficiaries who are found on appeal to be still disabled while the new law is being put in place.

In addition, the legislation places a desirable moratorium on reviews to determine whether individuals with mental impairments are still disabled until revised criteria for evaluating these impairments are published. The Department of Health and Human Services has been working with mental health experts on these criteria.

Several other changes are written into this new law that will clarify and expedite the administration of the disability program.

I have asked Secretary Heckler to implement the provisions of this legislation as speedily and as fairly as possible. The Department of Health and Human Services will act promptly in reviewing individual cases so that no disabled beneficiary has to wait any longer than necessary for the proper decision on his or her case.

Note: As enacted, H.R. 3755 is Public Law 98 - 460, approved October 9.