WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT THAT A SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY CLAIMANT’S TREATING PHYSICIANS SUPPORT HIS OR HER DISABILITY

With respect to the opinion of a Social Security disability Claimant’s treating physicians, according to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2), an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is supposed to give more weight to opinions from treating physicians since these sources are likely to be the medical professionals most familiar with a Claimant’s medical impairments. Additionally, an ALJ must consider the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of examination, and the nature and extent of the treatment relationship. An ALJ must also consider whether the opinion is supported by and consistent with the medical evidence. Furthermore, an ALJ must give good reasons for the weight given to a treating physician’s opinion. Additionally, Social Security Ruling (SSR) 96-2p states, “[i]f a treating source’s medical opinion is well-supported and not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case record, it must be given controlling weight; i.e., it must be adopted.”

Significantly, the opinion of a non-examining, state agency medical consultant is entitled to little weight if contrary to the opinion of a treating physician. Shelman v. Heckler, 821 F.2d 316, 321 (1987). See also, Mefford v. Gardner, 383 F.2d 748, 759 (1967 (statement by non-examining physician that was directly contrary to the evidence of physicians who had treated claimant over long period of time and determined that he was totally and permanently disabled cannot be substantial evidence that the claimant was not disabled); Jones v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 336 F.3d 469, 477 (2003) (the opinion of a non-examining physician is due less deference than the opinion of a treating physician and may be rejected if not supported by objective medical evidence); Smith v. Astrue, 565 F.Supp.2d 918 (M.D. Tenn. 2008) (the opinion of a non-examining physician is entitled to little weight if it is contrary to the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician). More importantly, the Sixth Circuit has repeatedly held that the opinion of a treating physician is generally entitled to greater weight than the contrary opinion of one of Social Security’s consulting physicians (usually called a consultative examiner) who has examined the Claimant only on a single occasion. Farris v. Secretary of H.H.S., 773 F.2d 85, 90 (6th Cir. 1985); Harris v. Heckler, 756 F.2d 431, 435 (6th Cir. 1985). In Walker v. Secretary of H.H.S., the court explained the reason for the treating physician rule: “The reason for such a rule is clear. The treating physician has had a greater opportunity to examine and observe the patient. Further, as a result of [his or her] duty to cure the patient, the treating physician is generally more familiar with the patient’s condition that are other physicians.” 980 F.2d 1066, 1070 (6th Cir. 1992).

Accordingly, if a Social Security disability Claimant has obtained an opinion from his or her treating physician that is supportive of disability and is consistent with the overall medical evidence, then that opinion should be given deference by the ALJ over any opinions submitted by Social Security’s medical consultants or consultative examiners. This is why it is of utmost importance that any prospective Social Security disability Claimant speaks with his or her treating physician to make sure that physician will support them in their pursuit of disability benefits.