May 4, 2017

Death Master File Problems

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Death information on CDPH [California Depart of Public Health] files was not always recorded on SSA records. At the time of our audit, SSA was issuing benefit payments to 83 individuals whose PII [Personally Identifiable Information] matched that of individuals who died in California from 1970 through 2004. 
  • In 34 cases, the beneficiaries were deceased. SSA terminated benefits to 28 beneficiaries and identified approximately $4.6 million in improper payments. SSA suspended payments to five beneficiaries but had not quantified the related improper payments. We estimate improper payments in these five cases totaled approximately $ 1.2 million. The remaining case did not involve improper payments. 
  • In 43 cases, the beneficiaries were alive. SSA and the Office of Investigations determined that none of the cases involved improper payments to the beneficiaries. 
  • In six cases, SSA was determining the beneficiaries’ status. The Office of Operations referred the cases to its regional offices for development. 
We also identified approximately 188,000 numberholders who were likely deceased but had no death information on the Numident [Social Security records]. At the time of our review, none of these numberholders was receiving SSA payments. We provided SSA with the numberholders’ information, and SSA recorded death information on most of these record. ...
     There's a lot to notice here. Yes, benefits were being improperly being paid to at least 28 people. However, there were more cases where simple data matches indicated that a person was dead when they were actually alive. More aggressive use of data matches to cut off the benefits of dead people will inevitably cut off benefits to more people who aren't dead. That's a nightmare for the people whose benefits are cut off. Notice that sensationalist media may point to 188,000 people that Social Security doesn't know are dead without mentioning that none of them is being paid benefits.


Anonymous said...

Resurrecting someone with SSA can be very difficult. Recently assisted an individual that was 100 years old, in Long Term Care in a Memory Ward. SSA inadvertently declared him dead. Lost his Medicare, Medicaid and SSA RIB payment. He had been in LTC for some time, no photo ID. Eventually we were able to get certified medical records from his doctor to prove he was alive. It took a further 3 months to get his Medicaid back in place. He had no income or insurance at all for two months. Yes, SSA and Medicare and Medicaid did back pay the individual and eventually paid the LTC center but it was months and months of hassle for everyone dealing with the situation.

I understand these cases are rare, given the number of people served, these problems are a tiny fraction of all SSA interactions. But they do have real world consequences and are devastating to the people it happens too.

Tim said...

Why don't we hear the disability "fraud-mythers" whining about this? The only logical reason is it doesn't fit their goal: stigmatizing the disabled as "frauds" in order to defund the program! Sinators Paul, Cotten and Lankford: Prove to us that you're not merely piles of excrement and be consistent. If you really believe in going after fraud, go after all government fraud, not just alleged fraud in one part of one agency!

Anonymous said...

83 people with California death data from 1970 to 2004. So from 1970 to the mid-1980s, there was no DMF or it was newly built. Meaning systems on both sides were still under development if they existed at all. 43 of these cases shouldn't have been on the DMF as they were alive. So 43 of the 83 were correctly not on the DMF? So given the fact that these dates start before the existence of the DMF through 2004, when the linkage with CA was automated, they found 34 real cases of data that didn't get to SSA from California. So the problem is SSA's because why?