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What Effect Will the Probe into Puerto Rico's Social Security Office Have on Social Security Nationwide?

Recently, the Social Security’s Inspector General, Patrick O’Carroll, has been spending more time focusing on a tropical island in the Caribbean, and not in hopes of a vacation. Last March, an article was launched in the Wall Street Journal alleging that rates of acceptance for Social Security Disability benefits were much higher in the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico than they were in the rest of the United States. Since then, investigations have indicated signs of fraudulent activity, leaving the Social Security Office of Puerto Rico under high scrutiny.

According to the article’s research, the acceptance rate of Social Security Disability cases in Puerto Rico is currently 63.4%, whereas the average in the U.S. is usually under 40%. The nation has seen a rise in unemployment, as well, and many of these are probably drawing Social Security Disability.

In one particular investigation noted by the Inspector General in an August 30th disability-examiners conference, a Puerto Rican pharmacy closed, leaving 300 people without jobs. Shortly thereafter, 290 of these former workers applied for Social Security Disability benefits, all referencing the same doctor.

Because of this and other suspicious scenarios involving the awarding of SSDI benefits, the Inspector General has stepped up investigations into the Social Security Office to find out if other abuses have been occurring.

This is not the only instance of the SSA requesting its inspectors to investigate potential cases of fraud. As the Social Security System hurdles toward its projected financial bankruptcy in the next few decades, the Administration has been desperately looking for ways to cut costs and increase efficiency. One of the ways to do this is to find and prosecute those who are unrightfully collecting benefits, consequently robbing taxpayers of hard-earned wages while keeping funds from those who qualify and desperately need SSDI.

One of the great temptations for those who commit SSDI fraud is the potential to receive medical assistance via Medicaid after they have been on SSDI for the required amount of time. Often, fraudulent cases are not caught for many years, depending on how often they are slated for review. This can amount to thousands of dollars of misappropriated funds that are further depleting the SSA’s funding pool. It is obvious that it is still too easy to get away with it.

As investigations in Puerto Rico’s Social Security Office continue, they may reveal insights into new ways of abusing the system. This could lead the SSA to launch more thorough investigations into fraud in other Social Security Offices across the United States, as well as make it more difficult to commit fraud during the SSDI application process. As politicians and other leaders debate furiously about what to do to save Social Security’s programs, it is crucial for the SSA to crack down on fraud and find other ways to cut expenses if they are to avoid insolvency and the resulting eventuality of bankruptcy.