Labor reawards black lung pact to CSC

The Labor Department last week awarded a $47 million contract to Computer Sciences Corp. to transform the systems that process medical benefits to coal miners with black lung disease.

Under the four-year Black Lung Support Services contract which CSC has held since 1987 CSC will move Labor's Black Lung program from a mainframe platform to a client/server architecture a move designed to provide speed save money and allow the program to update its medical-billing system which processes 750 000 medical bills annually.

"The medical-bill processing system is 20 to 30 years old and it's gotten so complex that it's impossible to modify for our purposes " said Randy Kloetzli the contracting officer's technical representative for the Black Lung program at Labor. "To make any changes in the future it is better for us to move to [a client/server environment] because" Labor would have to completely rewrite the modules under the old system.

The new system which will be administered by the Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation will support the program's four main subsystems: a claim and eligibility system benefit payment medical-bill processing and the payment of monthly benefits. Each year the system gains 8 000 people who are eligible for benefits under the program which currently has 175 000 program beneficiaries.

Susan Mann-Hammack program director for the Black Lung program at CSC said the primary difference in the new contract is that Labor will own the processing system which previously was owned and operated by CSC.

In addition to an outdated medical-billing system Kloetzli said Labor had modified the Dun & Bradstreet accounting package that it was using. The package is costly for the agency to use because of Labor's small accounting needs. "We have an old legacy system that's very difficult to modify and that like every automated system is old " Kloetzli said. "To go in and make changes for the Year 2000 on the mainframe is a large investment of time and energy and we concluded that it was better to invest that time into just rewriting our whole system in a new more efficient environment."

Other technical challenges facing the program already have begun. Last month Labor took Section B of the program from the Social Security Administration. Section B determines whether a miner died as a result of black lung disease and awards monthly benefits if the disease in fact did cause the person's death. Labor's new responsibilities raise the program's total budget to $1.1 billion a year.

The contract also will shift the program's medical-bill processing system away from its use of microfilm to optical disk technology a step that will improve image quality and storage capabilities. Currently a microfilm image of bills is made and the physical bill is sent to a federal records center. Information is keyed into the data system including the provider name patient name diagnosis and other information. The data is sent through batch cycles which the edit and resolution clerks compare with the microfilm image for mistakes and clarifications.

"The scanning technology will give us improved image quality " Kloetzli said. "It will make it much easier to retrieve the image than does microfilm and because the information is on a disk it is stored in a compact manner."

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