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Warner introduces bill to curb fraud, abuse through federal payments to the deceased

mark warnerU.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would help save millions of federal dollars by curbing erroneous payments to deceased individuals.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains the most complete federal database of individuals who are reported to have died. However, only 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.

“This should be a no-brainer: One of the easiest ways we can cut down on government waste, fraud, and abuse is by stopping fraudulent payments made to deceased people,” said Sen. Warner. “The federal government has the responsibility to be a good steward of taxpayer money, and this legislation will help us improve the nation’s fiscal health by saving taxpayers millions of dollars lost to bureaucratic oversight.” 

The SSA Office of the Inspector General reported that in 2015, according to the agency’s own records, there were 6.5 million people who have active Social Security numbers who are 112 years of age or older. In reality, there are only a few dozen people known to be that old in the entire world. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimated that it paid $239 million in “suspect” tax refunds in 2016.

Key provisions in the bill include:

  • Allowing Federal Agencies Access to the Complete Death Database. Under current law, only 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.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the Stopping Improper Payments to Deceased People Act was introduced by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE), John Kennedy (R-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Gary Peters (D-MI). Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Greg Gianforte (R-MT) introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives. Similar legislation was introduced in the 114th Congress.