Coburn Report Tracks $1B in Federal Money Going to Deceased

Posted October 28, 2010 at 11:01pm

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a report Friday detailing more than $1 billion in federal funds that have been paid out to more than 250,000 deceased individuals since 2000.

Social Security, home heating assistance and farm subsidy payments were among those made to deceased recipients, according to the report. It also found that claims were being paid for prescriptions that supposedly came from doctors who were already dead.

While some of the funds go into dormant accounts held by the deceased, in other cases “they land in the pockets of still-living people, who are defrauding the system by collecting benefits meant for a now-deceased relative,” according to the report, which is titled “Federal Programs to Die For” and was released to coincide with Halloween.

Coburn called on his colleagues to address the issue. “Nothing represents the stupidity of wasteful Washington spending more than directing a billion taxpayer dollars to the deceased. This practice is disgraceful and, in many cases, robs the living of promised benefits,” Coburn said in a statement.

“Congress itself created this mess by allowing poorly designed programs to continue unchecked,” he added. “As a result, nearly $1 billion of taxpayer funds has gone to 250,000 deceased individuals since 2000. If Congress is ready to get serious about spending restraint, ending subsidies for deceased people is a sensible place to start.”

Coburn’s office drew from the findings of various inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office and Congress to compile the report. Payouts include $18 million in stimulus funds to 71,688 dead people and $40.3 million in questionable benefit payments to 1,760 dead people by the Social Security Administration; $3.9 million in heating assistance; $1.1 billion in farm subsidies; more than $700,000 in Medicaid payments for “claims for prescriptions for controlled substances written for over 1,800 deceased patients and prescriptions for controlled substances written by 1,200 deceased doctors”; and $92 million in claims for medical supplies prescribed by dead doctors and $8.2 million for medical supplies prescribed for dead patients paid out by Medicare and Medicaid.

The Obama administration has begun taking steps to avoid making payments to the deceased, announcing in June that agencies are now required to check payments against the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.

But in a letter to Coburn last year, Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue acknowledged that it may be impossible to ensure fraudulent payments are not being made. “It is extremely expensive and may even be impossible to determine if a person is alive or dead particularly if the person died many years ago,” Astrue said in the letter, according to the report.