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1998-01-20 09:44:02


Medicare's Nightmare



The best thing about Medicare's nightmare is that we will wake up on January 1, 2000, knowing that Medicare is no more. Those 80 million checks per month will not be in the mail. (Then there is the question of the mails: the Postal Service is not 2000-compliant.) Medicare is run by the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA). This report documents its looming disaster.

The Welfare State has only a few more months to go. The experiment is just about over.

Free at last! Free at last!

This report appeared in FEDERAL COMPUTER WEEK (Jan. 19).

* * * * * * * * *

With just more than a year before the federal government is expected to finish fixing its Year 2000 computer glitches, agencies now are delving into the gritty details of data interfaces, staff shortages and backup plans for systems that fail.

Agencies have been aware of these underlying problems, but only in recent months have Year 2000 project managers begun to develop solutions and carry them out. . . .

At this juncture, the government admits that many agencies will not meet that deadline. For the most part, the ability to finish the work successfully depends on the agencies' management of these difficult but integral problems. . . .

Likewise, at the Health Care Financing Administration, the problem is making sure that the Medicare contractors hired to operate the agency's medical payments systems, which are scattered nationwide, are Year 2000-compliant, said HCFA chief information officer Gary Christoph. In the last fiscal year, HCFA processed $210 billion worth of medical bills.

"We have recognized that the contractors' systems don't live in isolation," Christoph said. "For example, contractors rely upon a telecom company to lease lines, and those lines depend on telephone switches; all of this is out of HCFA's control.

"How do we ensure that the systems are going to work end to end, that the claims will make it all the way from the doctor's office to the hospital through all those leased lines and telephone switches into the front end of the contractor?" he asked. "At any stage along the way there could be an interruption because somebody has not taken care of their Year 2000 problem."


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