GAO highlights access, Y2K concerns at HHS

The Department of Health and Human Services does not have access to the data or information technology systems needed to effectively manage various programs, and concerns posed by Year 2000 conversion efforts further complicate these shortcomings, according to a General Accounting Office report released last month.

The report, part of GAO's series on "Major Management Challenges and Program Risks" at federal agencies, notes that HHS does not have access to data needed to manage health insurance programs, grant-making activities and regulatory responsibilities. Developing and maintaining such systems is challenging, however, because many HHS programs are administered by state and local governments. In addition, the automated-systems challenges presented by the Year 2000 conversion effort compound these problems and could put services at risk, the report says.

The Health Care Financing Administration's mission-critical systems supporting the Medicare program are not yet Year 2000-compatible; if not corrected, these systems could malfunction or produce incorrect information beginning in January 2000, according to the report. HHS also faces the possibility of massive system failures for state Medicaid programs, although the responsibility for system renovations for Medicaid lies with the states, not directly with HCFA.

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