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How proactive data hygiene can mitigate your agency’s risks

· 5 minute read

· 5 minute read

Chances are, your government agency’s data is due for a spring cleaning.

That’s not just because spring is on its way. Agencies are coming out of a long, almost frantically busy time. “Over the past two years, the global COVID-19 pandemic has tested the capabilities of state and local governments more than any other event in decades,” notes the 2022 Government Fraud, Waste & Abuse report released by the Thomson Reuters Institute. With the COVID crisis appearing to recede, “the demand for government services [is returning] to levels that are closer to normal.”

That doesn’t mean that the challenges of managing your agency’s data have abated. Quite the contrary. What’s needed now is data hygiene – a rigorous cleansing of your database to rid it of the build-up of out-of-date information. Data hygiene can ensure that your agency is serving those in need while protecting its programs from fraud, waste, and abuse.

Why is it important to improve data quality?

Ensuring that your agency is working with accurate data will improve the level of service it provides to constituents and will help avoid potentially costly pitfalls down the line. Here’s an example of why data quality is particularly crucial right now.

On May 11, the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) that’s been in place since the pandemic began is scheduled to end. As the PHE unwinds, state agencies managing the Medicaid program will have to determine who’s still eligible. To do so, they’ll need to sort through an unprecedented amount of data. It’s crucial work for both state agencies and beneficiaries. Nationwide, the end of the PHE could result in 15 million people being disenrolled from Medicaid. That’s largely because many of those eligible have frequently moved during the past few years, and agencies often don’t have their most current addresses.

Even if your agency isn’t involved with Medicaid or initiatives connected to the PHE, the programs you do oversee still require that you have accurate data. And to feel confident that your database is as up-to-date as possible, you need to be proactive. Discovering after the fact how much of your beneficiaries’ information is inaccurate, incomplete, or inconsistent can expose your agency to several significant risks, including:

  • Unnecessary expenses of money and time due to returned mailings.
  • Beneficiaries not receiving the services and financial support they (often desperately) need.
  • Benefits paid to deceased or incarcerated individuals.
  • Increased and costly incidents of fraud, waste, and abuse.

Responding to these problems after they’ve occurred drives up administrative inefficiencies and costs while taking valuable staff time away from your agency’s core mission. A proactive, holistic approach to data hygiene can protect agency resources and deliver better outcomes for the people you serve.

Another challenge many agencies face, however, is that their data-gathering systems are as out-of-date as their data. Many are still working with manual processes and disparate internal systems. The search engines they rely on don’t always deliver current information. Siloed data and internal systems don’t always work well in tandem.

These system and process problems can leave an agency vulnerable to fraud. Incorrect data and mailing addresses can open doors to bad actors using fake identities to claim benefits that aren’t rightfully theirs. Fraudulent claims for Medicaid and Medicare programs alone cost the government billions of dollars annually.

Data hygiene is imperative to stopping and preventing deceptive activity within programs. As the Thomson Reuters Institute’s 2022 fraud report noted, the most common types of fraud government staffers experience are “submitting false claims and using forged or fake documents to obtain benefits.” Second most common: “billing for unnecessary items or services, and billing for goods or services that were never delivered.” In these instances, fraudsters typically use falsified records.

Meeting these challenges often is made even more difficult with competing priorities such as budgetary limitations, statutory and regulatory changes, and political considerations. With all these balls to juggle, agencies can struggle to address data-gathering problems they know exist.

How can you improve data quality and accuracy?

Digital data-management tools can offer agencies protection from risk in a cost-effective manner. Here are some “best-practice” capabilities to look for as you evaluate the available options for boosting your data’s quality and accuracy:

  • The ability to search thousands of people or businesses at once across thousands of data sets and delivering the data you want returned.
  • Identification of risk indicators, including arrests, bankruptcies, redundant Social Security numbers, and “synthetic” identities, across all state and federal criminal jurisdictions.

One set of tools to consider is Thomson Reuters Risk & Fraud data hygiene solutions. These cleaning solutions include Thomson Reuters CLEAR Batch Services, which have been designed to provide agencies with efficient bulk searching. Learn more about strategies for spring-cleaning your agency’s data and keeping its essential programs safe.

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