Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Death Masters

Although this may sound like the latest PS3 game, it's actually the Social Security Administration's list of post-life-Americans. In a nutshell, the SSA is tasked with identifying those who have died and (in some cases) pass along that information:

"Social Security does not make its Death Master File (DMF) available online ... Under the Freedom of Information Act, we are required to disclose the Public DMF to members of the public ... The Public DMF does not contain information where SSA's only source of that data was a State record of death. Further, the Public DMF is not a complete listing of every death in the United States."

So what's the problem?

It's that there's an inherent conflict between the "official" records kept by DC and those compiled by other actors (eg the states). What's at issue is that a) there's some question as to the accuracy of "The List" and b) how it's being used. And, of course, there's the whole problem of identity theft.

What's happened is that the states, squeezed ever harder for funds, have set up their own little speed traps for insurers. To wit: forcing insurers to either track down long-lost beneficiaries or turn over death claim proceeds to the state.

One little problem: as the SSA has itself acknowledged, the DMF is itself rife with potential errors and misinformation, including:

"incorrect reporting of death “have created severe personal and financial hardship for those who are erroneously listed as deceased, including the termination of benefits and the public disclosure of information that the SSA normally keeps confidential.”

So you can see where there might be, um, issues .

As usual, it's all a game of "show me the money," using the power of the state (both metaphorical and literal). In the event, the new hearings can be expected to shed as much light on the problem as usual.
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