Sens. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, recently introduced the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act — bipartisan legislation that would help save millions of federal dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals.
Carper and Kennedy were joined in their introduction by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri; and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Gary Peters, D-Michigan. Bipartisan companion legislation also was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Illinois, and Greg Gianforte, R-Montana.
The Social Security Administration maintains the most complete federal database of individuals who are reported to have died. However, a small number of federal agencies have access to this official list, and most federal agencies rely on a slimmed down, incomplete and less timely version of the death information. In addition, most inspectors general lack access to the complete death information. As a result, many federal agencies make erroneous payments to people who are actually deceased.
“Year after year, we have heard about a fundamental set of problems with how government agencies keep track of deceased individuals,” said Carper. “This legislation would take a number of common-sense steps to fix those problems and, in return, curb hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, in improper payments to people who are ineligible for federal benefits because they are dead. Simply put, we need to sharpen our pencils and stop making the kind of expensive, avoidable mistakes that lead to wasteful spending and make our agencies and programs vulnerable to fraud and abuse. I look forward to working with Sens. Kennedy, McCaskill, Warner and Peters, and our colleagues in the House and Senate to advance this bill and prevent improper payments to dead people in the future.
Key provisions in the bill include:
— Allowing federal agencies access to the complete death database. Under current law, federal agencies that directly manage programs making beneficiary payments have access to complete death data. The act allows all appropriate federal agencies to have access to the complete death data for program integrity purposes, as well as other needs such as public safety and health.
— Requiring use of death data to curb improper payments. The act would require that federal agencies make appropriate use of the death data in order to curb improper payments.
— Improving the death data. The legislation would establish procedures to ensure more accurate death data. For example, the bill requires the SSA to screen for “extremely elderly” individuals. This is in response to a 2015 Inspector General Report that identified 6.5 million individuals currently listed as being older than 112 years of age as still alive.