Government Incompetence: Nightmare of the Living Dead

| November 20 2013
Lawrence Huntoon

The ObamaCare website debacle is the latest in a long string of symptoms that belie a pervasive underlying disease—government incompetence. In recent Senate Hearings on the dysfunctional ObamaCare website,Democrat Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo), admitted: “Government does not do a great job with procurement, information technology or customer service.”

The same people who want to manage 18% of the economy, cannot even distinguish the living from the dead. A recent article in the Nov 3 Washington Post revealed that approximately 9,000 living people are declared dead by the government every year.

The Social Security Administration maintains a Death Master File, which is shared with at least six other federal agencies including Medicare and the IRS. According to the government bureaucrats who maintain the government database, making sure that information is accurate is not in their job description. An official responsible for maintaining the Death Master File, Marianna LaCanfora, was quoted as saying: “We get criticized for not having all these records be accurate…. And the fact is, they were never intended to be 100 percent accurate.”

An article published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons in 2004 revealed gross incompetence in the Medicare bureaucracy. According to the government’s own Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, 96% of the time Medicare bureaucrats provide the wrong answer to simple billing and policy questions. The government has a Carrier Performance Evaluation (CPE) process in place, but the GAO found that “CPE evaluation criteria are not designed to verify that CSR’s (Customer Service Representative’s) responses to providers are accurate.” Although the government oversight agency, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), acknowledged the need for improvement, no follow-up study has been done and the GAO has no plans to do a follow-up study.

Short of divine intervention, once the government declares you “dead,” you are not just merely dead but most sincerely dead, and resurrection can be extremely difficult.

One of my patients, a lady in her 80s, was wrongfully declared dead by the Medicare bureaucracy. Over the course of about a year, I wrote approximately 20 letters to the Medicare bureaucracy in an attempt to correct the government’s error. I also wrote to the government agency that supervises Medicare. Each time I encountered arrogant defiance by Medicare bureaucrats who insisted that I, as a licensed physician in the State of New York, was wrong, and they were correct in determining the woman was dead.

The patient went down to the local Social Security Office and showed a picture ID and stated: “I’m still breathing.” However, that made no difference. The arrogant and unaccountable Medicare bureaucrats said that she was dead in their Master File, and, therefore, that was the end of it. The patient even called a liaison from the government supervisory agency and talked to him at length about the problem, but the fact that she was able to converse with him was not sufficient evidence of her living state.

In the meantime, the Medicare bureaucracy tormented the woman by sending her letters addressed “To the Estate of (name).” They basically forced her to read her own official government obituary. Medicare also refused to pay for her medical care, citing the fact that they do not pay for care provided to dead people. The vulnerable elderly woman was also at risk for losing her Social Security benefits on which she depended for survival.

Eventually, it took an Act of Congress to force the unaccountable and arrogant Medicare bureaucrats to reinstate the woman among the living. I contacted Congressman Amo Houghton on behalf of the patient and explained the situation to him. The Congressman then contacted the Medicare bureaucracy.

However, even after the Congressman intervened, the Medicare bureaucrats refused to give the woman her name back, insisting that they would have to assign her a new name and a new Medicare number because she was officially listed as dead in the Death Master File. Incredibly, they assigned her a new name, which was the same name as a name-brand enema. They also assigned her a new Medicare number. After further intervention by the Congressman, the Medicare bureaucracy reluctantly agreed to give the woman her own name back.

The inescapable conclusion is that incompetence is built in to Social Security and Medicare, and no one is responsible for the accuracy of data. In an era when government is subsidizing physicians to create large electronic shared databases of private medical information which will more efficiently spread flawed data, pervasive government incompetence should concern us all.

 

Lawrence R. Huntoon, M.D., Ph.D.

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