SSA Death Reporting Update

Posted: September 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

Thousands of Americans are mistakenly reported dead every year by the Social Security Administration or other federal agencies. And Illinois has one of the highest rates of making such grave mistakes, according to a recent report by Scripps Howard News Service. Names of the alleged dead are listed in a massive ―Death Master File‖ database maintained by the SSA. Research of the database by Scripps Howard‘s Thomas Hargrove found the deaths of 31,931 Americans were listed in error. The government makes about 14,000 such errors every year — or about one for every 200 death reports — because of ―inadvertent keying errors‖ by federal workers, according to SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle. That would mean about 400,000 people have been falsely declared dead since 1980, when the Death Master File was created at the request of U.S. business interests who wanted the records to reduce consumer fraud. While the SSA authorizes the use of the database as a death verification tool, it is noted on a U.S. Department of Commerce website that contains the official file that the SSA cannot guarantee its accuracy.
SSA doesn‘t always know why mistakes are made. ―It‘s a larger issue than just our agency,‖ said Doug Nguyen, SSA‘s deputy regional communications director in Chicago. Several agencies other than the SSA submit death reports that might make it to the Death Master File. ―It‘s usually human typing errors entered into our system from another system,‖ Nguyen said. ―We do not verify the accuracy of every death record. ―The Social Security number was never meant to be the identifying piece of information it has evolved into,‖ he said. ―Unfortunately,‖ he said, errors also can occur in recording the date of birth, date of death or the deceased‘s name or address. Death reports also are provided by individuals, funeral parlors, nursing homes, state and federal agencies such as Medicare, the VA, railroad retirement plans, the Department of Defense and Department of Commerce, and other agencies that pay federal benefits, Nguyen said. All go into the Death Master File, which records 90 million deceased Americans.
The information is used not only by agencies that pay federal benefits but to determine eligibility and prevent fraud for bank loans, credit cards and insurance coverage.―We make it clear that our death records are not perfect and may be incomplete, or rarely, include information about individuals who are alive,‖ he said. Out of 2 million deaths reported every year, the error rate is about 0.5 percent, he said. ―But if you are in that half of 1 percent, it feels like 100 percent,‖ Nguyen said. When his agency discovers incorrect information, it moves ―as quickly as possible‖ to correct it, he said. The agency requires current identification and signed statements from the person — not birth certificates. ―This all helps, but it‘s one piece of the puzzle,‖ he said. SSA also has to track the mistake down to the source that reported the death and follow the chain of records in reverse.―It takes time to untangle,‖ he said. Mistakes usually are discovered when someone calls about a late check. But many of the ―walking dead‖ in the Scripps Howard report said their ―deaths‖ were discovered while shopping for a cell phone, applying for a student loan, mortgage or bank account, or renting an apartment. [Source: Southtown Star Susan Demar Lafferty article 5 Aug 2011 ++]


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