Why electronic birth-to-death file is inevitable for SSA

Advisory panel says agency has no choice but to go 90 percent electronic

The Social Security Administration has little choice but to move toward a goal of processing 90 percent of all transactions electronically in the coming decades, according to a new report adopted by an SSA advisory panel.

“Given the projected workload increases due to the number of individuals retiring over the next two decades, electronic self-service appears to be the only solution that will enable SSA to process future transaction volumes,” states the report adopted by the SSA Future Systems Technology Advisory Panel.

The “Re-imagining Social Security” report was published recently on the panel’s website after being adopted by the group at a meeting in May.

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In practical terms, the full picture of SSA's electronic processing would mean that hospitals would create an electronic medical record for each birth and communicate data about those births to SSA, which would set up a password-protected electronic account for each child.

Thereafter, as adults, people could log into their personal SSA account to verify information for jobs, name changes, widowhood, disability and retirement. Furthermore, SSA would communicate electronically with Medicare and with private doctors and hospitals to obtain patients' medical information if needed for a disability or benefits claim.

The proposed birth-to-death electronic system described in the report does not exist. The envisioned medical data-sharing network is based on the Health and Human Services Department’s Nationwide Health Information Network, and the job-verification system is based on the Homeland Security Department’s E-Verify, neither of which is widely used. More spending would be needed to create the necessary systems and networks, the report states.

The report also recommends that SSA make its electronic data available on mobile platforms, including cell phones, to facilitate future interactions with the agency.

“The most common tools people will use to access the Internet in the future will be smart phones and mobile devices,” the report states. “Therefore, in designing online applications, SSA should position themselves to support mobile devices and be prepared to convert Internet applications to these platforms while simultaneously maintaining the current platforms for the PC.”

To serve the small percentage of people with complex transactions or those who are unable or prefer not to use newer technologies, SSA should look into creating joint service centers with other federal agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, the report states.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Dec 30, 2010

The arrogance of (probably young) technoids assuming seniors will happily use their smart phones (which only a fraction of them have) to file virtual paperwork for money they need to live, is mind-boggling. News flash- many seniors can't SEE well enough to use a tiny screen and keyboard for complex interactions. Even a conventional PC with a 22" screen is stretching the comfort zone for many of them, if not for vision issues, then for the impersonality of it all. Face it, many folks, especially older ones, want a HUMAN to talk to. If SSA, et al, won't provide the humans, the clients will have to depend on relatives and friends to interact on their behalf. All in all, this study (like 'real ID') smells like another backdoor to implementing national ID database. Get enough chunks of it floating around, and eventually it will seem logical to just plug them all together.

Thu, Dec 16, 2010

This report has been on the SSA website for several months. The suggestions are very ambitious. To make these work (especially for the disability programs), there would have to be significant policy changes (policy simplification) in addition to software changes. That said, there are some ideas in this that might be workable if agencies (not just SSA) would work together on them, in particular the joint service center idea. Australia's Centrelink and Canada's Service Canada might be models worth investigating.

Wed, Dec 15, 2010 Ben Georgia

A "LifeCapsule" containment file was inevitable.

Wed, Dec 15, 2010 Mike Washington, DC

The idea of being able to automate and link to medical data would provide an opportunity for SSA to accomplish more, and to do so at less cost. I do have concerns, though. First is the potential for misuse by Big Brother (and I'm not really a conspiracy-theory type of person). Simply add fingerprints to the birth end of the process. Is this an invasion of privacy? That would be a good thing for law enforcement and for establishing clear personal identity, but the constitutionality is questionable. The second issue is that the wealth of personally identifiable information that could be accessed is tremendous. With the current state of IT security, having this information available through wireless means could compromise personal information for millions of people. The security of that information would be largely dependent upon the security savvy of wireless users, many of whom have only a cursory knowledge of wireless security issues. Unless the security is solved, look for a geometric increase in identity theft.

Tue, Dec 14, 2010 Jeffrey A. Williams

This can be accomplished IF there is very specific legislatioin to support it AND it is staged in it's implimentation. We should have started on this about 10 years ago IMO, but perhaps better late than never.

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