GAO report prompts HCFA to take battle stations

HCFA in November set up the war room and assigned employees to do nothing but track
year 2000 progress and solve renovation problems. The agency has also stationed employees
at sites run by contractors to track their progress preparing Medicare systems, said
Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, HCFA administrator.


“Ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries will continue to receive services after Jan.
1, 2000, is my No. 1 priority,” DeParle said. “To achieve this goal, we are
doing whatever it takes and devoting whatever resources are necessary to make sure
Medicare claims are paid promptly.”


HCFA’s decision to set up the war room followed a stinging report from the General
Accounting Office about the agency’s failure to ensure Medicare systems will be able
to run come 2000.


“We have a high number of Medicare patients and are concerned HCFA’s year
2000 problem could leave millions of beneficiaries without medical care,” said Cathy
Cohen, director of health policy at the American Academy of Ophthalmology.


In its report, Medicare Computer Systems: Year 2000 Challenges Put Benefits and
Services in Jeopardy, GAO concluded that HCFA and its contractors are “severely
behind schedule” in repairing, testing and implementing the mission-critical systems
that support Medicare.


HCFA has poorly managed its year 2000 project, has not identified and validated its
data exchange points and has relied too heavily on contractors to fix Medicare systems,
GAO said. Many contractors plan to make fixes this year, the report said.


More than 60 contractors run systems that process nearly 1 billion claims each year.


HCFA in August reported it had renovated about one-third of Medicare’s 98
mission-critical systems. A Health and Human Services Department report in November said
the agency had tested eight of 103 systems.


“We question the pace of HCFA’s efforts to remedy the problem and think the
agency should get working on contingency plans,” Cohen said.


The American Academy of Ophthalmology last month presented a resolution at an American
Medical Association meeting in Hawaii to call attention to HCFA’s year 2000 problem,
Cohen said.


DeParle in July told the Senate Special Committee on the Year 2000 Technology Problem
that HCFA had made substantial progress and was committed to success.


“In July I was told that HCFA was on track with its year 2000 readiness efforts,
but the HHS report clearly shows that substantial progress in not being made,” said
Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), the committee chairman.

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