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Death Data 2.0

During the last four years, I've spent much of my time in Washington educating partners across the federal government and the private sector about the roles and responsibilities of the vital records jurisdictions and the electronic systems that facilitate more, better, and faster death data to prevent fraud, identity theft, and improper payments. On May 29, I had the unique opportunity to address the Social Security Advisory Board—a seven-member bipartisan Board that advises the President, the Congress, and the Social Security Commissioner—and share more information about our progress in modernizing the vital statistics infrastructure and our vision for death data access via Electronic Verification of Vital Events (EVVE) "fact-of-death" queries.

To review, Section 205(r) was added to the Social Security Act in 1983 following a pilot program under which states voluntarily contracted with SSA to provide the agency with death certificate information so it could remove decedents from the rolls and stop benefit payments. Since then states have "rented" their death data to SSA and the data have then been shared on a limited basis with other federal agencies to facilitate the administration of benefits programs. Despite legal restrictions on their use and re-release, death data provided by the states under these contracts made their way into the public domain via the Death Master File in violation of Section 205(r) and many state laws.

SSA rectified the error in November 2011 by removing all state-only provided data from the public DMF. But this oversight got us thinking. Section 205(r) and the direct provision of death data from states to SSA made sense at the time—mostly because there was no other viable option. If we were to restructure the data sharing relationship with our governmental and private sector partners today, how would we do so in a way that facilitates easy, fast, secure access while preserving the states' rights over the data?

Enter EVVE—the next generation in vital records access.

I explored this idea with the SSA Advisory Board, noting that it was with funding from SSA in 2001 that NAPHSIS was able develop EVVE to allow certified users to verify birth and death certificate information at the source. I noted that NAPHSIS staff, our partners Lexis-Nexis VitalChek, and states are working overtime to be able to accept EVVE fact-of-death queries from qualified users by the end of 2015. With EVVE up and running, SSA and other approved users in the government and private sector could match their entire files against the EVVE hub to determine who on those files had died. In our vision, EVVE could be used by SSA, other government agencies, and the private sector (e.g., life insurance companies, pension plans, and financial institutions) in need of accurate and complete death data, without vital records data ever leaving the states' control. I explained that if other federal agencies would use EVVE, SSA would no longer have to manage its DMF data sharing responsibilities with other federal agencies, and could get back to its core book of business, namely, administering benefits.

We've certainly come a long way since 1983. EVVE fact-of-death is a work in progress, but it has tremendous potential to replace the DMF and satisfy many death data users. NAPHSIS continues to promote our vision for the future of data sharing—where users work directly with the states, and where states' retain control over their own data. We will also continue to advocate against data sharing policies that do not adequately compensate the states for data use or recognize state oversight.

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