Understanding the case of Compassionate Allowance Initiative for Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias

More than five million people have Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. The majority of Alzheimer’s cases are age 65 and older (Alzheimer’s Association). Moreover, as these cases progress, cognitive impairment can equate to compromised activity of daily living and disability. As cost becomes one of the primary drivers in the health care reform debate, direct and indirect costs related to Alzheimer’s disease is $148 billion per year; and most of these costs are attributed to those 65 and older. It is also estimated that 20% of 78.2 million baby boomers (US Census) have turned 60 by 2006. These numbers suggest that the health care reform debate is timely.

A number of inoperable and unresectable conditions have been categorized by the Social Security Administration as compassionate allowable conditions. Compassionate allowances “are a way of quickly identifying diseases and other medical conditions that invariably qualify under the Listing of Impairments based on minimal objective medical information (Social Security Administration).” The “new” list comprises 50 conditions that meet medical guidelines set forth by the Social Security Administration.

The Compassionate Allowance Initiative by the Social Security Administration began flagging certain applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with accelerated review. This accelerated review relied primarily on Compassionate Allowance Disability Conditions to expedite the processing of the application. Initially, the list began with 25 disorders and how now grown to 50. The goal of Compassionate Allowances is to expedite the application process for claimants with medical conditions that undeniably qualify. In cases like this, as soon as the diagnosis is confirmed and matched with the list, the claim is approved for SSDI and/or SSI.

At a recent hearing, Harry Johns, CEO, Alzheimer’s Association testified to the Committee concerning Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. “Once the science community recognized that the older population of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias was significantly larger, the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. For lack of data, our society did not recognize that those under age 65 with dementia, though a minority among dementia sufferers, was a significant population, a large cause in itself.” However, younger cohorts with Alzheimer’s disease are often overlooked. According to recent data, there are approximately 200,000 people under age 65 with Alzheimer’s disease. What is also stunning about this data- is that 80% of these younger cases lose their jobs and their respective income. In relation to the SSDI application process, the testimony by Harry Johns was crucial. Furthermore, if the backlog of applications with respect to medical conditions categorized as compassionate allowances; can be flagged, processed and acted upon.

Mr. Johns also expressed “The Alzheimer’s Association believes today’s Social Security hearing is a significant step in considering individuals with younger-onset Alzheimer’s and related dementias for the Compassionate Allowance list (Harry Johns Testimony, Social Security Administration).” It appears that the Social Security Administration has taken a proactive approach in healthcare reform, by the creation of the Compassionate Allowance Disability List. As more public hearings are conducted, other life-threatening conditions may be considered.

Social Security Administration. [Online]. Compassionate Allowances. Retrieved from http://www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances/ on July 30, 2009.
Alzheimer’s Association. [Online]. SSA considers adding AD to the compassionate allowance list. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/news_and_events_ssa_considers.asp on July 30, 2009.
Alzheimer’s Association. (2009). Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/national/documents/report_alzfactsfigures2009.pdf on July 30, 2009.
US Census Bureau. (January 3, 2006) Oldest Baby Boomers Turn 60. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/006105.htm on July 29, 2009.
Social Security Administration [Online]. Compassionate Allowance Outreach Hearing on Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias in Chicago, Illinois. Retrieved from http://www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances/hearings0729alt.htm on July 30, 2009.

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