In more we're-out-of-money news: If no changes are made, the Social Security Disability Insurance fund will run dry in four to seven years, according to government auditors. The Wall Street Journal takes a look at some of the reasons why, focusing at length on Puerto Rico, one of the easiest places in the US to go on disability. Last year, 63% of applicants there were approved. The fact that US states and territories have such a large say in who is approved is one of the main problems with the SSDI system; unlike Medicare or Social Security retirement benefits, SSDI benefits are doled out largely based on doctor’s opinions, not age, making the selection process inconsistent.
“The mentality is that it's ‘big, rich Uncle Sam's money,’” explains a San Juan surgeon who alleges that the system is corrupt. As the economy has soured, more applicants have joined the disability program: In 2000, there were 6.6 million beneficiaries; last year, there were 10.2 million. The government spends an average of $300,000 per recipient, one expert estimates, and in 2005, SSDI started spending more than it brought in from taxes. Raising taxes is, of course, one way it might be saved; analysts say the only other short-term solution is to fund it using money from the Social Security retiree fund, which would probably force retirees to face earlier benefit cuts.