Many healthcare Compliance and HR professionals are required to validate provider information as it relates to a variety of government databases and registries. A common checkpoint for most of these searches includes a verification against the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF). Let’s take a look at some of the history of the SSA DMF and how it is referenced today for ongoing provider monitoring.
What is the SSA Death Master File?
The Death Master File (DMF) from the Social Security Administration (SSA) contains over 85 million records of deaths that have been reported to SSA. The Social Security Administration receives death reports from many sources, including family members, funeral homes, financial institutions, postal authorities, state information, and other federal agencies. It is important to note that the SSA records are not a comprehensive record of all deaths in the country.
The SSA stores death information on the NUMIDENT (short for “numerical identification”) – an electronic database containing SSN records assigned to each citizen since 1936.
Information Found in the Death Master File
The file includes the following information for each decedent ( if available to the SSA):
Date of Birth (DOB)
Social Security Number (SSN)
Date of Death
*The Social Security Administration does not have a death record for all persons and does not guarantee 100% accuracy of the data. Those who review the Death Master File should not assume the absence of a particular individual proves the person is alive.
There are two types of this file released by the Social Security Administration:
- Death Records from NUMIDENT
- Provided to U.S. Department of Commerce NTIS
- Sold to the Public (Banks, Credit Companies, etc.)
- Does NOT INCLUDE State Death Data
- Death Records from NUMIDENT
- INCLUDES Death Data Received from States
- Shared ONLY with Certain Federal and State Agencies
- Shared in Accordance with Section 205(r) of the Social Security Act
Common Names for the SSA Death Master File
The DMF has been known to go by many names according to who is providing the information and which industries are describing the data. Because of the discrepancies of who is allowed to see either the public or full files, you can imagine the number of misconceptions that exist around this topic. Some common names we’ve heard for the file include the following:
- Limited Access Death Master File
- Social Security Death Index
- Death Master Index
Who Searches the DMF?
Industries who primarily reference this file are financial firms, credit companies, healthcare organizations, security firms, government agencies, genealogists, insurance companies, as well as many others.
The primary purpose of the public version is to help identify and prevent fraudulent activity for those that might be using the identity of a deceased person to benefit themselves. Many times, this activity involves employment opportunities or financial deception.
Who can Access the SSA Death Master File?
According to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the public is granted access to death data reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Restrictions to the information distributed by each state come into play according to Section 205(r) of the Social Security Act.
The Limited Access Death Master File (LADMF)
Because of the wide use and demand for death records for a variety of industries, SSA has partnered with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS) to release the Limited Access Death Master File (LADMF) electronically on a weekly and monthly basis. The list is strictly enforced by the NTIS with a certification program for the LADMF. Although each DMF download is visible on the site, each file is password protected and requires a lengthy application process and associated fees to cover the costs of the NTIS certification program.
According to NTIS, “the certification program established under the Final Rule limits access to LADMF information to those persons certified under the program. Certified persons, also called Subscribers, must have a legitimate fraud prevention interest, or have a legitimate business purpose pursuant to a law, governmental rule, regulation, or fiduciary duty in order to be certified under the program.”
SSA Death Data Improvement Initiative for 2019
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is committed to providing better data to those who purchase the LADMF from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Starting in December, the administration has communicated the following:
In fiscal year 2019, SSA will add nearly 3 million death records to the full and publicly available Death Master File (DMF) over the course of several months.”
On March 2, SSA released 1,593,325 historical death records in addition to normal death record updates.
Sharing these deaths will increase the accuracy, integrity, and completeness of our records as well as the DMF. We will notify you a week prior to receiving an increased volume of death information in your files. You can expect to receive an anticipated volume along with that communication. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.”
– Social Security Administration, December 2018
Searching the SSA Death Master File for Healthcare Providers
Within the healthcare industry, many professionals in various departments including human resource, compliance, credentialing, and more are tasked with ensuring that no individual or organization is behaving fraudulently. Here are a few examples of how these professionals are keeping patients safe and catching bad actors with enhanced background screening and ongoing monitoring.
- Validating that no services are being billed to Medicare or Medicaid from a deceased provider
- Ensuring that excluded individuals or entities are not using a false or stolen SSN for employment purposes
- Verify that payments are not being billed for deceased beneficiaries to providers or suppliers
- Keeping track of medical research study subjects
- Hospital verification of former patients