The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

March 28, 2014

Rep. White seeking means to speed up issuance of death certificates

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, has introduced legislation that would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to develop an electronic death registration system and make its use mandatory.

“We have an ongoing problem of taking a tremendous amount of time for families to get death certificates,” White said. “When you have a case that happens that a family does not get one, it creates lots of different problems.”

The bill would require funeral directors — the people who typically procure the data and initially enter it — to enter data into the system within one day of receiving the information.

“The key part we’re really concerned about is after five business days, if a death certificate is not complete, the family may be able to request and receive a provisional death certificate,” he said, noting from time to time it is hard to get a doctor to sign off on a cause of death. “The ultimate, permanent death certificate will have a cause of death on it.”

The bill also would allow a physician unable to complete the medical certification because of  “exigent circumstances” — like a long-term illness or an absence — to finish the form as soon as possible, or would allow it to be taken care of by an associate physician or someone who has been delegated the authority by the physician.

“If there is a problem,” he said, “those can be time delayed.”

White, who noted that he worked on computer programming during his time in the utilities industry, said having the registry digitized only makes sense these days.

“The vast majority of the things we do now are on the computer,” he said. “I’m trying to get it done expeditiously for the family and to get it done with as little pain as possible. We are in a computer age.”

Don Otto, director of the Missouri Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association, said while he agrees with the intentions of the bill, he does have some concerns.

“The problem boils down to doctors who refuse to sign the death certificate in timely fashion or refuse to be a part of the death penalty system,” he said.

“Even though the law says you have to do it, they’re not doing it,” Otto said.

From the perspective of funeral directors, Otto said he was opposed to the mandate provision.

“I don’t like the statute that mandates we do it in one day of the system. As a practical matter, we do that,” he said, noting that in most cases they cannot get paid by insurance companies until they do so.

Furthermore, Otto noted that while the provision allowing for provisional death certificates in White’s bill may be acceptable to some, it would likely not be acceptable to all insurance companies, particularly without a cause of death signed off on by a doctor.

“Provisional death certificates might be useful in some cases, but they’re not going to be good for a company like Metlife who needs a cause of death,” he said. “We have problems right now with the short certificates printed by the system.”

With many of the concerns raised during the hearing, White said he was not sure whether the bill would actually pass this year. For now, he said, it is a “work in progress. We’re going to be working on this into the rest of this year and probably next.”

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