To ensure program integrity, SSA depends on death reports that are accurate and timely.
SSA uses death information to stop payments to deceased beneficiaries; however, if SSA never receives death information for beneficiaries or recipients, then payments could continue to the deceased person’s financial account.
Also, without death information, a person could commit fraud and continue to collect payments intended for the deceased, and it could affect other agencies that depend on SSA’s data.
SSA receives death reports from many sources, including friends and family members of the deceased and funeral homes; for several reasons, those reports might not always be completely accurate or provided to SSA in a timely manner.
Through the Electronic Death Registration, or EDR, reporting process, SSA and the states aim to improve the accuracy and timeliness of death information. Under EDR, states verify Social Security numbers and other identifying information with SSA at the beginning of the death registration process, improving the accuracy of SSA’s payment and death records.
The Department of Health and Human Services provides the states with funding to establish EDR. Currently, 44 of 50 states, as well as New York City and Washington, D.C., have implemented EDR, as shown in the map below. (Mississippi became the 44th EDR state in July 2017.)
Our auditors recently reviewed states’ use of EDR. The audit report provides information on the use of EDR at this point. In summary, there is room for improvement with EDR use. For example, our auditors reported that not all states with EDR are reporting death information to SSA within the preferred time of five days after the death, even though the majority of EDR states report more than 60 percent of deaths through EDR.
There are 19 states that can improve by reporting deaths to SSA within five days. SSA asserts that receiving death reports timely leads to more complete, accurate death records. The longer time passes between a death and the reporting to SSA, the more likely it is that the death report could be overlooked and lead to future administrative or payment errors.
Certain states utilize EDR effectively. For instance, Indiana has reported over 90 percent of deaths to SSA through EDR. With that high rate of reporting through EDR, Indiana also reports its death reports within 5 days over 80 percent of the time.
This example shows the potential of EDR use, but some states could still do more with the program. Georgia, for example, reports a good number of deaths through EDR, but the State has the lowest percentage of deaths reported within 5 days of death. While Michigan has the lowest percentage of death reports using EDR, it submits reports within 5 days 35 percent of the time, ranking it ahead of Georgia.
If additional states follow Indiana’s lead with EDR and efficiently submit death reports to SSA, the agency could improve the completeness of its death records, and fraudsters would be limited in their attempts to seize deceased recipients’ Social Security payments.
Editor’s Note: Baltimore City high school student Xavier Welch drafted this post during his summer internship with the Office of the Inspector General.