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New Rules for Musculoskeletal Disorders Go Into Effect

While receiving little notice outside of disability attorneys, Social Security made a big change to how it reviews spine, joint, and muscle claims earlier this month.

On April 2, new Listings went into effect for claims involving back and knee issues, non-healing leg fractures, and amputations. Back impairments make up the majority of disability claims, and the updated Listings have expanded requirements to qualify for disability benefits.

Listings are essentially automatic disability for any age. If a doctor hired by Social Security determines that an individual meets or equals the requirements of a Listing, their claim is approved, assuming they’ve stopped working and meet the other financial requirements to receive disability insurance or supplemental security income.

As most administrative law judges rarely ask medical experts to testify at hearings, these changes will likely have limited impact at the hearing level for now, but the revisions are expected to make it more difficult for individuals to qualify for benefits with their initial application, or during the reconsideration process, when their medical records are reviewed without the benefit of additional testimony or judicial review.

In particular, these changes will likely mean that fewer younger individuals under the age of 50 will qualify for benefits, as most do so with the benefit of meeting or equaling a Listing.

The Listing changes were first proposed in December, and impact all claims pending or filed as of April 2, 2021. The new Listings will be in effect for the next five years unless they are rescinded or revised.

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