Industry Education and Public Benefits

From a structured settlement perspective, a key settlement planning priority is determining how best to integrate structured settlement annuities into a settlement plan to qualify or maintain government benefits – especially “means tested” government benefits.

Continuing a series of articles evaluating whether the National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) needs to re-think and re-design its educational programming and educational marketing to strategically position structured settlement annuities as the core product within personal injury settlement planning, this article asks: : “whether and how does NSSTA currently educate its members about public benefit issues impacting personal injury settlement planning?” Note: as a point of comparison, Society of Settlement Planners’ (SSP) educational programs and resources are also considered.

During recent years, NSSTA’s primary education programs have featured many topics directly or indirectly related to public benefit issues such as: special needs trusts, the Affordable Care Act, ABLE Accounts and MSA Professional Administration, to name a few. More recently, including both the 2019 Annual and Fall Conference, NSSTA has focused on Liability MSAs and featured, among other speakers, NAMSAP President Amy Bilton.

SSP likewise provided its members with a strong government benefit education during 2019. Its Annual Conference also addressed Liability MSAs as well as ABLE Accounts.

Amos Goodall’s CSSC Survey

Perhaps the most noteworthy highlight on NSSTA’s 2019 education agenda, from a public benefit perspective, was Amos Goodall’s “Public Benefit Planning Survey” presented during NSSTA’s CSSC Program co-sponsored with the University of Notre Dame.

Goodall’s “Survey” was noteworthy because it represented the first time in 25 plus years NSSTA’s CSSC curriculum included a “government benefit” overview. It provided a single survey of public benefit programs under the Social Security Act and replicated, in greater detail, Goodall’s presentation during the NSSTA 2017 Annual Conference.

The Social Security Act encompasses Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability Income and Supplementary Income programs and Goodall explained how each relates to personal injury settlement planning.

All four of these public benefit programs are administered through a single Department, Health and Human Services, and the office of a single agency, the Social Security Administration. As Goodall pointed out, however, even though these programs also share some common definitions, they are very different in terms of qualification and purpose.

How important is a basic knowledge of the “Fundamentals of Public Benefits for Persons with Disabilities” for NSSTA and SSP members? By way of comparison, here is a summary description of a “pre-session” program with that same title from an upcoming Academy of Special Needs Planners (ASNP) conference designed for special needs attorneys and financial advisors:

Understanding public benefits for persons with disabilities is critical to understanding how to prepare and administer a special needs plan. This program will discuss the fundamentals of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Childhood Disabled Beneficiary (CDB), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Medicaid, and Medicare as they concern persons with disabilities. Without knowledge of what is (and is not) available through public benefits and the rules that govern them, there is no special needs planning for attorneys or financial advisors. Moreover, without knowing the effect a distribution has on public benefits, an SNT trustee will not be able to properly administer special needs trusts.”

Yes, this ASNP conference program description discusses “special needs” plans and planning. However, the same principle applies for structured settlements and personal injury settlement planning – and also raises several related educational issues worth considering.

The Principle: Understanding public benefits for persons with disabilities is critical to analyzing how to prepare, sell and implement a personal injury settlement plan featuring one or more structured settlement annuities.

Related Educational Issues

  1. What are the differences between “special needs planning” and “settlement planning” as they relate to the personal injury market?
  2. Why does personal injury settlement planning typically include special needs attorneys but not special needs financial advisors?
  3. In other words, why do so many legal advisors practice in both markets (special needs and personal injury) while most financial/insurance advisors typically specialize in just one or the other - when the “customers” for financial services in both markets are so often disabled persons?
  4. What products, other than life insurance, do special needs financial advisors market?
  5. What knowledge and certifications do the most highly qualified special needs financial advisors possess that might be relevant to personal injury settlement planning?
  6. What is “person-centered planning” and how does it relate to structured settlements and personal injury settlement planning?
  7. In their various roles as attorneys, guardians, conservator, settlement trustees and QSF administrators, are special needs attorneys more likely to be structured settlement advocates or competitors/critics?
  8. When special needs attorneys are critics of structured settlements, what are their primary objections and what are appropriate responses?
  9. Besides special needs trusts, what work product do special needs attorneys typically contribute, if any, to personal injury settlement plans?
  10. What sections of The Social Security Act, and/or its regulations (including the POMS), if any, specifically mention structured settlements? Does this help or hurt our product?

CONCLUSION: Several transitioning markets impacting personal injury claimants require a knowledge of public benefits: structured settlements; personal injury settlement planning; special needs planning; “person-centered" planning; disability planning. Future business success will require NSSTA to continue to help its members understand, through its educational programs, not only the fundamentals of public benefits but also how best to position structured settlements within the legal framework of the Social Security Act and the social framework of the disability community.