Jay B. Fine, M.D., is very much alive. Now he just has to prove it.
Jay is the victim of what used to be called a clerical mishap. A simple mistake that, in today’s database-driven economy, is not so quickly fixed.
Right before Memorial Day weekend, Jay got a letter from his health insurer, AvMed. Owing to his death, AvMed’s letter succinctly stated, the company would cease to cover him.
Turns out, Jay’s name, for some still unexplained reason, had wrongly landed on a death list of sorts produced by the Social Security Administration. That registry is cross-referenced by financial institutions so they can update files – and terminate business.
You’d think in a high-speed, information systems-managed society such errors wouldn’t happen. Or at least they’d be fixed quickly.
In today’s computer-centric business world, humans rely on machines and algorithms to do such menialwork, and for a lot less money. That’s fine until it costs someone time, money and aggravation.
Even after Jay convinced Social Security he was among the living, it was too late. His pseudo-death had been pinged to the financial world. Even after the mistake was rectified, he learned, the master list doesn’t send acorrection.
So, Medicare still informed him he would no longer get benefits. The bank started returning checks to his account. The national database of health care professionals voided his identification number. Why?
“Because I’m dead,” Jay said.
Fortunately, it is a correctable issue. Jay has restored his standing among the living with Social Security, Medicare, AvMed, one credit bureau and the National Practitioner Database, allowing him to continue to practice medicine.
However, he still gets the occasional note from a financial entity stating that some benefit or business relationship is being terminated owing to his un-death. And then, the burden of proof remains on Jay to demonstrate that he walks this earth with the rest of us.
“Every time I get one of these I think, ‘Wow, what’s going to be next?’” he said.
It’s a question lots of other people are probably asking. The research firm TDWI calculates poor and incorrect data costs U.S. businesses about $611 billion a year.
All that points to a flaw: Databases and systems speed the course of business, but still commit mistakes, do not appear to have the capacity to check out information and can be impenetrable to a correction.
“The thing that bothers me is nobody checked this out,” he said. “No one called to see if it was correct.”
Largely, because humans don’t talk to each other. And when we do, it’s with a well-meaning but somewhat disconnected call center operator somewhere between the Philippines and Bangladesh.