Effective today, the Social Security Administration will implement a new ruling regarding the evidence needed by judges to make a finding of "medical equivalence". For a copy of SSR 17-2p (click here.)
Under Social Security regulations, a person may be found disabled if he or she "meets" or "equals" the requirements of a listing of impairments (listings). If an individual meets all the criteria of the listing, then the person is found to be disabled. However, a person can also be found disabled when the person does not meet all of the requirements of the listing but has a medical condition that is of "equal" duration and severity.
Through SSR 17-2p, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has elaborated on what type of evidence a Judge must obtain in order to make a finding that a listing has been equaled. It is clear that with this new ruling, the SSA has made it harder for judges to make this finding. Here is a list of the evidenciary requirements;
To make a finding that a listing has been equaled the administrative record must contain:
1. A prior administrative medical finding from an MC [Medical Consultant] or PC [Psychological Consultant] from the initial or reconsideration adjudication levels supporting the medical equivalence finding, or2. ME [Medical Expert] evidence, which may include testimony or written responses to interrogatories, obtained at the hearings level supporting the medical equivalence finding, or3. A report from the AC’s medical support staff supporting the medical equivalence finding.
This new ruling seriously erodes the judicial independence of administrative law judges. In essence, the agency has stripped judges of their ability to make independent decisions regarding medical equivalency and instead, has given these powers to doctors and personnel from the Appeals Council. This ruling is also detrimental to claimants in that it allows judges to find that a person does not equal a listing without having to provide any explanations on the decision.