HCFA, GAO square off over Y2K

A top administrator at the Health Care Financing Administration today told two House subcommittees that she is "relatively optimistic" that the Medicare provider payment systems will be free of Year 2000 computer failures, but she cannot be so sure about medical devices.

HCFA administrator Nancy-Ann DeParle told a joint hearing of the Health and Environment Subcommittee and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that Medicare claims are expected to be paid "promptly and accurately'' after Jan 1, 2000, based on surveys received from participating health care providers.

"Providing quality care goes beyond billing and claims processing,'' DeParle said. "It depends on doctors, hospitals and other service providers ensuring that their medical equipment will work and their offices remain open. It also depends upon pharmaceutical and medical supply chains continuing to operate uninterrupted."

Joel Willemssen, director of the Civil Agencies Information Systems office in the Accounting and Information Management division at the General Accounting Office, said his office is less optimistic about HCFA's payment systems and medical devices. Willemssen said HCFA has not been "rigorous enough" in testing its payment systems to accurately determine if they are Year 2000-compliant.

"The health care sector has not made adequate progress regarding Y2K," Willemssen said. "HCFA lacks a detailed end-to-end testing plan. I'm more pessimistic. The heath care sector is not in good shape because of what we don't know."

According to HCFA, nearly 100 percent of Medicare Part B claims providers and more than 90 percent of Part A claims providers filed Year 2000-compliant forms this month with eight-digit date fields. DeParle said HCFA is working with industry trade groups to bring the compliance rate to 100 percent for Part A and Part B claims.

Willemssen said medical devices such as magnetic resonance imaging systems, X-ray machines, pacemakers and cardiac monitors still appears to be vulnerable to the Year 2000 computer problem.

"Patient care is important, and that's the side of it we are all concerned about," DeParle said. "I'm dealing with the financing end of it."

Representatives from the Food and Drug Administration and the medical device industry declined to attend the joint hearing, according the members of the subcommittees.

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