An audit of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, America’s largest public pension fund, found regular payments to pensioners well after they died, so much so it’s challenging to get the money back.
Around 1,800 CalPERS pensioners die every month, according to a June memorandum from the fund’s Office of Audit Services that recently become public. CalPERS had more than $41 million in wrongful pension payments outstanding as of July 31, 2020, the audit said. It estimated CalPERS made those payments to about 22,000 dead pensioners.
The CalPERS Death and Survivor Benefits Division (DSBD) is responsible for verifying a pensioner has passed away and stopping payment. The audit found this process is done by a part-time employee that’s not given regular supervisory oversight.
Of the sample of 30 cases audited, the report found DSBD learned pensioners had died an average of 47 months after the date of their deaths, resulting in $2.34 million in wrongful payments that had yet to be recovered.
Ohio in February announced more than 4,000 additional deaths while reconciling its data, and Indiana added about 1,500. Smaller revisions have also recently come from Virginia, Minnesota and Rhode Island. On Thursday, authorities in West Virginia said medical providers hadn’t properly reported 168 deaths to the state’s public-health department.
“Nobody likes surprises, and nobody likes data that’s wrong because that’s what drives decisions,” said Ayne Amjad, West Virginia’s state health officer.
Like many countries, the U.S. is trying to track pandemic events nearly as they happen, and a big part of this effort has required speeding up how deaths are reported.
All-cause mortality counts allow public health authorities to identify populations experiencing excess deaths from pandemics, natural disasters, and other emergencies. Further, delays in mortality reporting may contribute to misinformation because death counts take weeks to become accurate. We estimate the timeliness of all-cause mortality releases during the Covid-19 pandemic, and identify potential reasons for reporting delays, using 35 weeks of provisional mortality counts between April 3 and December 4, 2020 for 52 states/jurisdictions. On average, states’ mortality counts are delayed by 5.6 weeks (standard deviation 1.74), with a range of 8.8 weeks between the fastest state and the slowest state. States that hadn’t adopted the electronic death registration system were about 4 weeks slower, and 100 additional weekly deaths per million were associated with 0.4 weeks delays, but the residual standard deviation was 0.9 weeks, suggesting other sources of delay. Disaster planning should include improving the timeliness of mortality data.