MAGNOLIA, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) – Imagine living to be more than 70 years and learning the government has it on record that you’ve passed away… while you’re still living. That’s exactly what’s happened to a Texas woman who is now fighting to prove she’s not dead.
It was the day after Halloween when Sherry Ellis found out she was dead.
The 73-year-old from Magnolia, Texas, was picking up her prescription from a drug store when her bank card was declined. She said she knew something was fishy because the card was only three months old.
So she went to the bank, and after rounds of phone calls Ellis found out she had been declared dead by the Social Security Administration.
“With my bank card declined everywhere, I can’t get gas, I can’t get money for food, I can’t do anything,” she said. “I don’t know how long I’d been dead before I found out.”
The Office of the Inspector General said in 2016 the SSA sees fewer than 1,000 cases of mistaken death declarations a month.
The OIG also said mistaken deaths can lead to mistaken benefit terminations and “cause severe financial hardship and distress” for people like Ellis. The septuagenarian said a social security check, her Medicare and secondary insurance were all put on hold. She takes 10 different medications for blood pressure, a stomach condition and heart issues that can cost up to $1,400 without insurance.
After getting the news of her death, Ellis traveled from Magnolia, about 45 miles northwest of Houston, about an hour out of her way to the nearest SSA office to rectify the problem. It began a slow process.
“The Medicare office told me it might take up to 45 days to resurrect me,” she said, adding that she was in limbo for the next week. She was given a letter that basically said she was alive, but her doctor and pharmacist weren’t able to take it because she was still classified as deceased in their systems.
In the meantime, her bank card is working again.
Ellis is expected to find out sometime Monday if she’s been declared alive by SSA.
On their website the administration says if someone thinks they’ve been incorrectly listed as deceased they should go to their local office as soon as possible and bring one piece of identification. This can be a passport, driver’s license or health insurance card.
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