Reported dead, Fallon woman fights to prove otherwise

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FALLON, Nev. (KOLO) For all she's been through, Georgia DiCenzo seems very much alive.
In fact, she laughs at the suggestion that others might have believed otherwise.

"Yeah. Too ornery."

What makes this remarkable is that she was apparently reported dead a little over a year ago. But like Mark Twain, reports of her death have been exaggerated.

Her story starts at Hearthstone, a Sparks nursing home. Georgia is disabled with a history that includes several back surgeries, a stroke and seizures.

A little over a year ago she was a resident at Hearthstone and she and the home were making plans to make her stay long-term. But then a long-time friend offered her a place to stay. She went home to Fallon.

She says the nursing home that had made all the arrangements for her benefits to apply there was more than disappointed, pursuing her aggressively, encouraging her to return. She decided to remain with her friends.

Weeks later the first signs of trouble appeared--overdraft notices from the bank. It turned out her Social Security checks had stopped.

"No money," she says."and it took three calls to Social Security to find out why it was stopped. They said it was because the nursing home you were in reported you deceased."

The checks were restored, but the report of her death had a further impact. The portion of her disability check slated for Medicare had also stopped and a year later she hasn't been able to get that restored.

"I called four times a month for at least ten months and I believe in being nice to people. I think you get further doing that. And I've talked with some nice people, but no one did anything."

Her doctor hasn't been paid in months. She's been paying full price for prescriptions. The bills and stress have been mounting and worst of all her attempts to reach someone who could help have been frustrated.

"They've all acknowledged, 'Yes you are alive. Yes you should be and as of Wednesday I checked with Social Security, Medicare and the prescription plan and they said 'No, uh, uh.'"

We've made a number of calls in the past few days to various agencies and entities regarding Georgia's case. We still don't have an explanation from Hearthstone concerning the original error.

People in the Social Security office in San Francisco say erroneous death reports are rare, but do happen--9-thousand last year out of 2.8 million death reports. They say examples usually involve a match with an incorrect report received by another agency or an error in a return from an institution with an improper code.

When they do learn of a falsely reported death, they say they take immediate corrective action, including notifying Medicare and Medicaid. We've put their entire response at the bottom of this story.

Clearly those corrective actions didn't happen in this case, but we put them in touch with Georgia DiCenzo. They've assigned an agent to investigate her case. She says initial response from that agent seemed to focus on a claim that she owed Medicare for those lost premiums, which, of course, were not her fault.

As for Georgia DiCenzo, she continues to say she's not mad at anyone. She just wants her benefits restored and to get on with her life--which does continue.

We'll continue to follow this story. We'll let you know how it ends.


Social Security Response

Social Security processes about 2.8 million new reports of death each year and our records are highly accurate. Of the 2.8 million death reports we receives each year, about 9,000 instances per year (or 0.35 percent) are subsequently corrected. We recognize erroneous death cases are very sensitive because a death termination can result in severe financial hardship and distress to the beneficiary. Even one error is too many. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this causes.

Social Security receives reports of death from various sources, including family members, funeral homes, federal agencies, financial institutions, etc. An erroneous death termination is rare and usually occurs when we receive:
• an incorrect report,
• a death match with another agency that has received an incorrect report, or
• an erroneous return by the financial institution with a reason code of death.

When Social Security receives a report that a beneficiary who was reported deceased is still alive, we take immediate steps to determine the accuracy of the report and restore payments. Once the payment records are corrected, the next steps are:
• Correct our Social Security number database, and
• Notify the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the financial institution if appropriate.

I would like to add for your viewers, when a person suspects that he or she has been incorrectly listed as deceased on their Social Security record that person should:
• visit their local Social Security office as soon as possible, and
• bring at least one current (not expired) form of identification with them.

Here is a list of some acceptable forms of identity specific to resolving incorrect deaths:
• Passport,
• Driver’s license,
• State-issued non-driver identity card,
• Employee ID card, or
• Military record