GAO questions SSA data management

GAO questions SSA data management

BY PREETI VASISHTHA
GCN Staff

MAY 7'To assure that disability insurance beneficiaries get the right payments, the Social Security Administration should establish a national reporting system, the General Accounting Office recommended in a report released last week.

Social Security has no system that identifies beneficiaries and verifies changes to their benefits, specifically one that tracks whether beneficiaries receive workers' compensation payments.

Instead, SSA relies on applicants to report status changes, making it difficult for the agency to make accurate payments, GAO said in its report, Workers' Compensation: Action Needed to Reduce Payment Errors in SSA Disability and Other Programs.

If a worker receives both disability insurance and workers' compensation benefits, and the benefits exceed 80 percent of the injured worker's average earnings, Social Security generally reduces the disability insurance benefit. But because the agency relies on individuals to report that they are receiving both benefits, the agency often ends up overpaying or underpaying, GAO found.

Reviews reveal that more than 50 percent of disability insurance beneficiaries are paid inaccurately, GAO said. Another study projected $1.5 billion in payment errors, mostly underpayment, the report added.

Social Security could obtain benefits information from insurance companies, self-insured employers and state insurance funds, then record the information in a central database, GAO said.

Other agencies could also use this data, such as the Health Care Financing Administration for Medicare and the Agriculture Department for its Food Stamp Program.

To see if agencies could benefit by sharing workers' compensation data electronically, GAO recommended that Social Security and HCFA test the extent to which they can exchange beneficiary information.

In written responses to the report, SSA and HCFA agreed that they should share information, but SSA also raised privacy concerns about exposing beneficiaries' Social Security numbers.

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