Social Security:

Reporting and Processing of Death Information Should Be Improved

HRD-92-88: Published: Sep 4, 1992. Publicly Released: Sep 4, 1992.

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Jane L. Ross
(202) 512-7230


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Social Security Administration's (SSA) process for obtaining information on deceased beneficiaries and terminating benefits payments, focusing on: (1) how long family members, states, and others take to report deaths to SSA; (2) the amount of time SSA takes to terminate payments once a death is reported; (3) whether delays in reporting and processing inhibit SSA from recovering erroneous payments made to deceased beneficiaries; and (4) opportunities to improve the timeliness of death information reported to SSA.

GAO found that: (1) 90 percent of the reported deaths come from family members, friends, and funeral homes; (2) most beneficiary deaths are reported within 14 days and SSA terminates benefits within 2 days; (3) telephoned, rather than mailed, reporting of death speeds benefit termination; (4) 32 percent of erroneous payments result from state and Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) reporting delays; (5) a lack of uniform state reporting requirements causes delays and erroneous payments; (6) HCFA reported 80 percent of its death reports to SSA within 2 months; (7) SSA requires an additional 2 to 3 months to process and terminate benefits after SSA receives HCFA and state death reports; (8) SSA verification of death creates delays and additional costs in obtaining death certificates; (9) less than 1 percent of shared SSA and state information is inaccurate, but 13 percent of HCFA information contains inaccuracies; (10) inadequate procedures and state information restrictions result in limited data sharing regarding non-SSA deaths; (11) delays in HCFA and state death reporting prevent SSA and the Treasury Department from initiating timely erroneous death payment recoveries; (12) Treasury and SSA have lost $5.8 million due to recovery time limitations; and (13) SSA lacks access to state automated information systems and has initiated and paid for new accessible information sharing systems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The October 22, 1992, memorandum requires SSA field offices to adhere to established procedures.

    Recommendation: To improve the timeliness and accuracy of SSA collection of death information, the Commissioner of Social Security should require field offices to adhere to established procedures for verifying beneficiary deaths reported by states and HCFA.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On January 20, 1995, SSA disseminated instructions to all field offices to record death information for both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries.

    Recommendation: To improve the timeliness and accuracy of SSA collection of death information, the Commissioner of Social Security should formally promulgate procedures to record all deaths for non-social-security beneficiaries in the database of death information shared with other federal agencies and annotate the records to show that such reports are unverified.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration


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