The Impact of Claimant Representation Fee Schedules on the Disability Applicant Process

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by Riley Wilson, Brigham Young University

Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income are important social insurance programs that serve millions of individuals and cost billions of dollars. A vast literature evaluates the impact of these programs on the decisions of potential candidates, but there is virtually no work examining the incentives and behaviors of another key individual in the disability determination process: claimant representatives. The actions of disability attorneys can shape both the application process and the nature of disability caseloads. I will explore these decisions using detailed individual disability recipient data from the DAF PUF. The Social Security Administration’s representative fee schedules create incentives for attorneys to (1) win cases and (2) prolong cases to a point, after which remuneration for services are capped. Using bunching analysis techniques, I will examine realized case and appeal duration as well as potential attorney payments to determine how attorneys adjust their behavior and effort in response to these incentives. I will also explore how rule differences between disability insurance and the low- income supplemental security income program impact people differently across the income distribution. Exploring these decisions will shed light on the role disability attorneys play in the disability determination process and give insight into the incentives and decisions they face.

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