Is long COVID really a mass disabling event?

In 2010, field offices for the Social Security Administration received close to 3 million applications for disability assistance. The number dropped off at a steady rate in the years that followed, as the population of working-age adults declined and the economy improved after the Great Recession, down to just about 2 million in 2019. Then came COVID. In 2020 and 2021, one-third of all Americans became infected with SARS-CoV-2, and a significant portion of those people developed chronic symptoms. Yet the number of applications for disability benefits did not increase. In fact, since the start of the pandemic, disability claims have dropped by 10 percent overall, a rate of decline that matches up almost exactly with the one present throughout the 2010s.

Advertisement

“You see absolutely no reaction at all to the COVID crisis,” Nicole Maestas, an associate professor of health-care policy at Harvard, told me. She and other economists have been looking for signs of the pandemic’s effect on disability applications. At first, they expected to see an abrupt U-turn in the number of applications after the economy buckled in March 2020—just as had happened in the aftermath of prior recessions—and then perhaps a slower, continuous rise as the toll of long COVID became apparent. But so far, the data haven’t borne this out.

That doesn’t mean that the mass disabling event never happened. Social Security field offices were closed for two years, from March 17, 2020, to April 7, 2022; as a result, all applications for disability benefits had to be done online or by phone. That alone could explain why some claims haven’t yet been filed, Maestas told me. When field offices close, potential applicants have less support available to help them complete paperwork, and some give up. Even now, with many federal offices having reopened, long-haulers may be struggling more than other applicants to navigate a bureaucratic process that lasts months. Long COVID has little historical precedent and no diagnostic test, yet patients must build up enough medical documentation to prove that they are likely to remain impaired for at least a year.

Advertisement

Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on HotAir Videos

Sponsored

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement