Feds paid at least $1B to dead people, Coburn says

Dead people got Social Security, Medicare, farm subsidies, senator says

Federal agencies paid more than $1 billion to dead people from fiscal 1999 to 2009, according to a new report Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released today.

“Washington paid for dead people’s prescriptions and wheelchairs, subsidized their farms, helped pay their rent, and even chipped in for their heating and air conditioning bills,” Coburn wrote.

The largest group of payments to the deceased, totaling $1.1 billion, went to dead U.S. farmers from fiscal 1999 to 2005, according to the report. However, the farm subsidy program allows some funding to continue for as long as two years after a farmer’s death. The report estimates that 40 percent of the payments were improper because they occurred three or more years after death, totaling $400 million from 1999 to 2005. If that trend continued through the decade, the total amount would be approximately $630 million, the report states.


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Medicare paid as much as $92 million in claims for medical supplies prescribed by dead doctors and $8 million for medical supplies prescribed for dead patients during the period, the report states, adding that Medicaid covered $700,000 in prescriptions for controlled substances to dead people.

Additional payments to dead people included $58 million in questionable Social Security payments; $15 million in housing subsidies from the Housing and Urban Development Department; and $4 million in heating and cooling aid from the Health and Human Services Department, the report states.

White House officials have estimated that total improper payments made by the government were $110 billion in 2009, Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in the OMB Blog today. That includes tax-funded payments to ineligible people, for the wrong amounts, at the wrong time or for the wrong purposes. President Barack Obama has set a goal of eliminating $50 billion in improper payments from 2010 to the end of fiscal 2012, Zients wrote.

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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