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‘Till Death Do Us Part: NAPHSIS and Partners Talk Value of Death Data on Capitol Hill

Emily J. Holubowich, MPP, Senior Vice President at CRD Associates, is NAPHSIS’s Washington representative and leads our advocacy efforts in the nation’s capital.

As headlines demonstrate—from the unexpected rise in death rates among middle-aged, white Americans due to substance abuse and suicide, to impact of home births on infant mortality, to the rise in maternal mortality—death records collected and maintained by the states and territories serve critical public health, civil registration, and administrative functions. Such records are essential in tracking life expectancy, addressing causes of death through public health interventions, and in stopping benefits payments to individuals who are deceased—or starting payments to surviving relatives.

On July 28, NAPHSIS leaders and partners participated in a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill to educate congressional staff, agency officials, and members of the data user community about the value of vital records generally, and death data particularly, in public health and fraud prevention. Before a standing room only audience of more than 60 people, panelists shared their perspectives about death records and how they are being used to promote and protect health, safety, and security.

  • NAPHSIS President and Kansas State Registrar Dr. Lou Saadi served as the panel moderator, and shared stories of how vital records data are used in her state and areas for needed investment in the vital records system.

  • NAPHSIS Executive Director Shawna Webster provided a “vital records 101” overview, explaining the jurisdictions’ roles and responsibilities, their relationship with the federal government, the various uses of vital records, and the electronic systems jurisdictions are implementing to enhance registration and reporting.

  • Dr. Lou Turner of the North Carolina Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and State Laboratory of Public Health shared how North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services is using death data to better understand and respond to the state’s opioid epidemic, noting the importance of Electronic Death Registration Systems (EDRS) and how an EDRS would help facilitate a more rapid and thorough response.

  • Jeffrey Drubner of Verus Financial and Michael Murphy of the Berwyn Group each discussed the ways in which their companies are reliant on death data to facilitate proper benefits payments and prevent benefits fraud and other criminal activities. They each noted deficiencies in the public Death Master File (DMF) and the value of the Electronic Verification of Vital Events (EVVE) system in supporting their efforts, noting that state death records are the “gold standard.”

For more than a decade, NAPHSIS has advocated for funding to support the modernization of vital records systems to generate more, better, and faster birth and death data, and this congressional briefing was another critical component of our advocacy campaign. NAPHSIS will continue to promote the value of vital records and statistics on Capitol Hill to ensure policymakers understand the critical role and needs of the 57 vital records jurisdictions.

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