- The Washington Times - Friday, October 29, 2010

The federal government has paid out more than $1 billion in checks to dead people over a decade, according to a new report by the top Republican on the Senate’s investigative panel.

All told, the government has paid out funds to some 250,000 dead people, said Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on investigations.

“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,” Mr. Coburn’s report said.

Among the payments to dead people were $18 million in stimulus funds from Social Security, $92 million in Medicare claims paid for treatments prescribed by dead doctors and $8.2 million for medical supplies prescribed for dead patients.

President Obama took steps in June to try to rein in those types of mistakes by issuing a memo asking that payments be checked against the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File, though Mr. Coburn said that won’t catch all of the errors.

White House acting budget director Jeffrey Zients said in a blog post on the White House website Friday that payments to the dead are one example of the broader trend of erroneous payments, which he said totaled $110 billion last year.

He said Mr. Obama takes the issue seriously, and has set a goal of eliminating $50 billion in improper payments between 2010 and the end of fiscal year 2012.

For his part, Mr. Coburn blamed Congress as much as the administration, arguing lawmakers have been lax in overseeing payments and in some cases have failed to give agencies the means to correct payment errors. For example, Congress failed to give Social Security the ability to rescind electronic payments in the stimulus bill, which means the government has only been able to recoup 52 percent of the $18 million in payments to 71,688 dead people.

Mr. Coburn also said Congress is to blame for rules that required dead farmers to receive benefits — more than $1 billion, sent to nearly 173,000 deceased farmers over seven years. Of that, nearly a fifth of the money went to farmers who had been dead at least seven years.