US data mistakes leave thousands 'dead'

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Tens of thousands of people are being declared 'dead' thanks to poor data management by the US Social Security Administration (SSA)..

The problems were highlighted in a report published in 2006 but do not seem to have been addressed.

Potentially tens of thousands of people are losing benefits, healthcare and tax rebates after being mistakenly entered into the SSA computer system as 'dead'.

"The accuracy of death information is critical to SSA and its beneficiaries, as well as other federal, state and local government agencies," the 2006 report found.

"Input of an erroneous death entry can lead to benefit termination and financial hardship for a beneficiary."

The report cited the case of US citizen Laura Todd who was declared dead eight years ago after a typing error.

"One time when I [was] ruled dead, they cancelled my health insurance because it got that far," she told MSNBC. "I don't think people realise how difficult it is to be dead when you're not."

Almost all major government agencies in the US rely on the SSA for their data, so a mistake in the central database can cause havoc in people's lives.

Errors cannot be rectified until the reason for the original mistake has been identified and the change cleared by a supervisor. This can cause enormous frustration for those caught in the system.

"They've seen me four times, so they know I'm alive," said Toni Anderson, who was declared dead after her husband died and 'Mrs' was entered into the system instead of 'Mr'.

"It's just a matter of being able to get me alive in the system. That isn't as easy as showing up at the Social Security office and saying 'Hi.'"

The SSA has promised to improve the system as quickly as possible.
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