New SSA district office to openWASHINGTON -- Baltimore...

Newswatch ... on federal workers

February 19, 1992|By Carol Emert | Carol Emert,States News Service

WASHINGTON — New SSA district office to open

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday at 1 p.m. to open the new downtown district office of the Social Security Administration.

Also expected are Maryland Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, and SSA Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King.

The new office is in the Shillman Building at 500 N. Calvert St.

"Our new space is nicer than what we left," said District Manager David W. Richardson. The office is sunnier and is more spacious than the previous one, which was in the Candler Building at 109 Market Place, he said.

The new office is across Calvert Street from the Baltimore Sun building. Parking is available in the building and parking meters in front have been changed from 30 minutes to two hours for the convenience of SSA clients, Mr. Richardson said.

The move comes at the behest of the General Services Administration, which is moving all federal offices out of flood plains.

The office's 30 employees will provide services to about 205,000 Baltimore residents, including those enrolled in SSA programs such as Retirement, Survivors, Disability, Medicare and Supplemental Security Income.

Not all free:

It was incorrectly reported in last week's column that government retirees "covered by Medicare receive prescription drugs for free." In fact, some retirees help pay for their medication.

Curt Smith, of the Office of Personnel Management who provided the incorrect information, said that under the Federal Employees' Health Benefits Program, prescription drugs are fully covered for the majority of Medicare patients -- those who receive both Part A and Part B benefits. But prescription drugs are not fully covered for those who receive only Part A benefits.

Mr. Smith, associate director of the office of retirement and insurance, said that Part A, which covers hospitalization costs, is paid for by payroll tax deductions. Part B, which covers doctor fees and other medical services, is paid for by individual retirees.

Under the benefits program, patients who do not pay for Part B are required to pay 20 percent to 25 percent of the bill for prescription drugs and other services, Mr. Smith said.

Medicare patients who are not covered by the program, or by another secondary carrier, pay all of their costs for prescription drugs.

People covered by the benefits program only must pay whatever deductibles and co-payments are required by the plan they select, according to Alan Spielman, vice president of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

'Singled out':

Federal employees have been "singled out once again to bear the brunt of the spending cuts proposed in the president's budget," the head of the nation's largest union of government workers told the House Banking Committee last week.

Although federal workers represent only eight-tenths of 1 percent of the U.S. population, almost 10 percent of President Bush's proposed fiscal 1993 budget cuts are directed exclusively at government workers and retirees, said John N. Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

AFGE represents more than 700,000 active and retired federal workers, including more than 14,000 at the Social Security Administration headquarters in Woodlawn.

Mr. Sturdivant said the proposed budget would yield little in long-term savings but would result in more government inefficiency and "inequity and hardship for both active and retired federal employees."

Mr. Sturdivant criticized Mr. Bush's plan to eliminate 702 full-time equivalent positions from the Social Security Administration payroll in fiscal 1993. Some 17,000 SSA jobs have been cut since 1985, he said, with a corresponding increase in the backlog of pending cases.

In 1988, some 200,000 benefits cases were pending at the

Disability Determination Service, Mr. Sturdivant said. The president's proposed budget estimates that number will have grown to 1.4 million in fiscal 1993, with an additional 1.4 million cases awaiting action in field offices and payment centers, he said.

Mr. Sturdivant blamed past personnel cuts for poor telephone service and long waits in SSA offices.

Some 600 SSA contact stations around the country have been closed since 1985, restricting access for many clients, he said.

If the proposed staffing cuts are made, disability claimants will have to wait an average of 213 days to have their claims processed, Mr. Sturdivant said.

Rather than cutting jobs, he recommended that more claims be processed in order to eliminate payments to people who no longer need them. About $850 million in overpayments could be saved by resolving backlogged continuing disability review cases, he said.

The reviews determine if disability beneficiaries still are eligible for benefits. The president's proposed budget predicts that by the end of fiscal 1992, there will be a backlog of some 950,000 review cases, Mr. Sturdivant said.

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