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'Dead' woman insists she's still alive
Josephine Miskowitz lost her checks and her insurance after a Social Security mixup declared she was deceased.
By PHIL DAVIS
Published June 7, 2005
[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
Josephine Miskowitz, 78, has not received her Social Security check since March, after the Social Security Administration declared her dead. In addition, her HMO has refused to pay for her prescription drugs.
PORT RICHEY - Josephine Miskowitz got some bad news when she went to the Social Security office to find out why she didn't get her March benefit check.
"You're deceased," the worker explained.
"And I said, "Well, hello, look at me,"' said Miskowitz, 78. "And they said somebody must have pushed the wrong number."
That should have been the end of it. Miskowitz showed some ID and filled out a form stating she was "alive and well." In a March 3 memo, the Social Security Administration agreed:
"We have now determined that the fact of death is erroneous; that is, the beneficiary is alive."
But on Monday, as far as Miskowitz could tell, she was still officially dead.
Being dead is stressful.
She hasn't received her $992 monthly Social Security check for three months, forcing her to dig into her emergency funds. Social Security also stopped paying her HMO, which sent her family a letter of condolence that politely canceled her insurance, effective Feb. 28. The HMO has refused to pay for her emphysema medication as recently as Saturday, she said.
"It's a snowball that is growing so big," said Miskowitz, a widow who works part time distributing samples at a Publix supermarket. "I have a stack of papers that won't end with the promises they've made to me."
It could be worse. Miskowitz has only died once. In 1998, the Social Security Administration killed 64-year-old Rosie Nelson of Charleston, W. Va., three times in as many months. The blunder made international news.
"Oh honey, they done me that way. It tore me all to pieces," Nelson, now 71, told the Times Monday. She receives her checks regularly now, thanks to political intervention and appearances on CNN.
Her advice to Miskowitz: "Let the world know what the government is doing to people."
Miskowitz is trying.
"I'm a fighter," she said. "If I'm right, I'll fight."
She wrote to U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs. She called her HMO. She's argued her case at the Social Security office in Port Richey. Several visits there lasted more than four hours, she said.
"I think they're from orbit," Miskowitz said of the local Social Security workers. "I really don't think they know what they're doing. And the people are so rude. I ask them to explain what they are doing and they say, "Oh, don't raise your voice or we'll have you escorted out.' They have an armed guard there."
The Social Security Administration's national press office in Baltimore did not respond to two requests for an interview on Monday. And the phone system to the Port Richey office is a maze of automated messages, which ended Monday with a recorded voice saying call volume was too high. "Please try your call again later," the voice said. Then the line went to a busy signal.
Today, Miskowitz will again try to see if she is among the living. She will go back to the bank to ask about her check and then on to the Publix pharmacy to see if her insurance is back in effect. She's been told it will be all right.
But she's heard that one before.
"If they keep this up," Miskowitz said, "I will be dead in a couple of months."
--St. Petersburg Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.