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Rice Law Office Blog

This blog reviews important legal issues including: personal injury, employee compensation, workers compensation, discrimination and wrongful termination.

Survey Shows Prescription Drug Costs Up

Survey Shows Prescription Drug Costs Up

At the end of 2015, the 12th Annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp, which tracks pharmacy costs for workers’ compensation, was released. The study showed that drug costs increased more than 6 percent compared to 2014.

This increase in drug costs is thought to be due to the increased price of medication but also due to the dramatic increase in the amount of prescriptions being written, particularly for opioids. In 2012, total spending on opioids in the US was just over $8 billion, and workers’ compensation paid for about 17 percent of that total.

That figure has grown dramatically and New Hampshire has one of the highest per capita rates of opioid prescription in the country. Not surprisingly, NH has one of the highest rates of addiction in the country. Last year more than 300 people died from drug related causes in New Hampshire, with the vast majority of those deaths stemming from opioid abuse.

The opioid epidemic in New Hampshire is very much in the spotlight, and this post will be the first in a series examining prescription drug addiction, strategies for managing prescriptions, and new legal approaches to combatting addiction.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Chris Potter under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

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No COLA Adjustment for Social Security in 2016

No COLA Adjustment for Social Security in 2016

For 2016, there will be no cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security and SSI benefit rates. This means that the government has determined that the cost-of-living has not risen since last year, and benefits will hold steady until the review next year. 

Each year the government assesses cost-of-living around the country through a Consumer Price Index – which measures changes in the price levels of essential goods and services around the country – and then adjusts benefits accordingly. If the cost-of-living goes up, the government must increase Social Security and SSI benefits.

While everyone enjoys seeing an increase in his or her benefits, the good news is that the average cost-of-living has not risen this year. Without an adjustment to cost-of-living, retirement earnings, exempt amounts and the maximum earnings subject to social security tax will also hold steady.

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New Hampshire Social Security: Most Common Questions

New Hampshire Social Security: Most Common Questions

Question: How do I apply for a new or replacement Social Security number card? 

Answer: You can get an original Social Security card or a replacement card if yours is lost or stolen by following the steps below. You cannot apply for a card online. There is no charge for a Social Security Card. You will need to: 

Show the required documents, which will vary depending on citizenship and the type of card requested.Fill out and print an application for a Social Security Card andTake or mail your application and documents to your local Social Security office. 

Question: How do I change or correct my name on my Social Security number card?

Answer: If you legally change your name because of marriage, divorce, court order or any other reason, you must tell Social Security so you can get a corrected card. You cannot apply for a card online. There is no charge for a Social Security card. To get a corrected Social Security card, you will need to:

Show the required documents. You will need proof of your identity. Sometimes you also may need to prove your current U.S. citizenship or lawful noncitizen status.Under the heading, “Type of Card,” select “Corrected”for a list of the documents you need;Fill out and print an application for a Social Security Card andTake or mail your application and documents to your local Social Security office

Question: How do I apply for Social Security retirement benefits?

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MIND-BODY CONNECTION: DEPRESSION AND ITS ROLE IN MAXIMIZING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

MIND-BODY CONNECTION: DEPRESSION AND ITS ROLE IN MAXIMIZING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

While it is certainly possible to receive social security based upon one impairment alone, it is not likely. Most cases are won by individuals suffering from multiple impairments, both physical and mental. The fact is, our mind and body are connected and chances are if one isn’t functioning correctly, the other is also impacted.

Indeed, claimants who suffer from a severe disabling condition almost always have accompanying depression and/or anxiety. When you consider the effects of a serious injury or condition, this outcome should be expected. Serious injuries and medical conditions inevitably lead to altered work routines, additional financial pressure because of lack of income, as well as changes in the types of social, athletic and recreational activities in which you can engage. This creates stress and anxiety which can be disruptive in personal and family relationships.

Moreover, the strong medications used to treat chronic pain often effect sleep patterns and even cognition. Lack of sleep combined with powerful pain medications can affect concentration- many patients have described feeling like they are in a fog, or just "not themselves" any more.

It should come as no surprise that serious physical disabilities are often accompanied by depression and anxiety. What you may not realize, is that it is crucial these mental health symptoms are included in the social security disability application. In determining whether an individual’s physical or mental impairment are of a sufficient severity in order to be eligible for social security benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must consider in accordance with the law (42 USC § 423(d)(2)(B) the combined effect of all of the individual’s impairments.

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Disabled Veterans Applying for Social Security

Disabled Veterans Applying for Social Security

Disabled veterans may be eligible for both social security and veterans disability benefits at the same time, and its important to pursue both options to maximize benefits. Since Veteran Affairs (VA) compensation, or service connected disability, is not based on income, veterans are potentially eligible to receive VA compensation and social security disability (SSDI) simultaneously. Pension benefits are part of the need-based program, and are very similar to supplemental social security income (SSI) offered through the Social Security Administration. While veterans must establish that they suffer from a service connected disability in order to be eligible for VA compensation, veterans who have very little or no income and who are disabled based on non-service disabilities, may also be entitled to compensation under the VA pension plan. Social Security Disability (SSDI) and VA compensation typically offer more generous benefits than either SSI or VA pension. However, it is certainly worthwhile to be aware of these other need-based programs.

One significant difference between social security disability and veterans disability is that claimant doesn’t need to establish the total disability in order to be eligible for VA disability compensation. In general, the Social Security Administration only pays benefits to people who are totally disabled, not partially disabled, or suffering from short-term disability. Claimants are considered disabled if they cannot do work that they did before and if social security decides that the claimant cannot adjust to other work because of his or her medical condition. In addition, the claimant’s disability must last or be expected to last for 12 months or in some cases be expected to result in death. This is not the case with the VA disability compensation. In fact, most veterans who receive VA compensation do not receive a total disability rating. Veterans can receive a compensation rating as low as the 10% level. As mentioned above, another major difference between the two benefit programs is that while the VA only considers service connected disabilities (for VA compensation), the Social Security Administration will consider all impairments regardless of whether they are service related or not.

Establishing a compensable disability rating for purposes of VA benefits may actually improve your chances for being deemed eligible for social security benefits; the higher the rating, the more likely you are to be successful in your bid for social security. In fact, it is the rule in some circuits that VA ratings are entitled to "great weight" when determining a claimant’s application for social security disability. This is because another federal agency has already found that you are either incapable of work or you are at a level where full-time work would be very difficult.

Finally, keep in mind a social security claim for survivor benefits based on the death of a veteran also constitutes a VA claim for death benefits. They are said to be received by the VA at the same time as they are received by the SSA. In seeking death benefits or disability benefits, it is absolutely vital that claimant contact both the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration to explore all of the benefits available.

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Maximizing Social Security Retirement and Disability Benefits Part Three

HOW TO RETIRE EARLY WITHOUT LOSING SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

This is the third post in my series on social security and retirement strategies to increase your benefits. I have previously discussed the "file and suspend" strategy to increase retirement benefits for retired couples, as well as the future of the "file and suspend" loophole and who might benefit from this strategy while it lasts. In this post, I will be discussing how disabled individuals can obtain their full social security benefits, even if they are forced to stop working before their full retirement age (FRA).

There are many people who are opting to take early retirement and thereby accepting less than their full monthly retirement benefits, because they just can’t wait until their full retirement age (FRA) to stop working. Some people choose to take early retirement as a lifestyle choice. Some people choose early retirement as a result of a disability that forces them out of the workforce sooner than they had planned; for those people, who leave due to disability rather than choice, there maybe a better option.

Employees who are eligible for early retirement, but who have not yet reached their full retirement age, are eligible to receive their full social security benefit if they are deemed disabled by the Social Security Administration. Age is certainly not a disability, but there are times where people choose to retire early, not because it’s a choice, but because physical limitations have made it such that they can no longer work. These folks typically lose thousands and thousands of dollars in benefits over the course of their lifetime, simply by virtue of having retired a few years early.

Where early retirement comes as a result of an individual’s inability to continue to work, then it isn’t retirement; it is disability, and by applying for disability benefits instead of early retirement, people in their 60's might avoid taking a reduced benefit. Those who are eligible for disability retirement, as opposed to age related retirement, can receive their full social security benefits even if they haven’t reached their full retirement age.

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Maximizing Social Security Retirement and Disability Benefits Part Two

Methods to Maximize Social Security Disability and Retirement Benefits

Part Two: Is File and Suspend a Closing Loop Hole or a Strategy for All?

This the second post in my three-part series on social security retirement strategies to increase your benefits. In this post, I will be discussing the future of the "file and suspend" loophole and who might benefit from this strategy while it lasts. I have previously discussed how the file and suspend strategy can be used to increase retirement benefits for retired couples. In my next post I will explain how workers considering early retirement might maximize benefits by applying for both social security retirement and disability benefits.

While our first article explained the"file and suspend" strategy for increasing retirement disability benefits for retired couples, this article aims to provide you with some information to help you determine if it might be something you want to discuss with your financial adviser.

There is disagreement as to whether or not the "file and suspend" strategy is a method of "gaming" the social security system, or whether it is simply smart financial planning. The Obama administration has made its opinion clear; it considers this strategy a loophole for the wealthy and as a result, it may soon be shut down because of the added cost it imposes on the social security program.

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Maximizing Social Security Retirement and Disability Benefits Part One

Maximizing Social Security Retirement and Disability Benefits Part One

Methods to Maximize Social Security Disability and Retirement Benefits

Part one: What is File and Suspend?

This is my first post in my series on social security disability and retirement strategies to increase monthly benefits. In my first two posts, I will try to explain the concept of file and suspend as a strategy to increase retirement benefits and in the second post, I will address the controversy surrounding this option. In my third post I will address the method of dual filing for social security disability and retirement to maximize benefits for those forced to retire early due to disability.  

File and suspend is a strategy used by married couples to increase retirement benefits. It’s easier than it sounds. Here’s how it works:

The spouse with the higher retirement benefit known as PIA (the formula for calculating benefits is called the Primary Insurance Amount or PIA) files for social security benefits at full retirement age, then immediately files a notice to suspend payment of those benefits. In many households the higher earner is the husband, so he would file for retirement at his full retirement age (as opposed to early retirement), but he would opt out of taking his actual payment.

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