HCFA spinning wheels in IT efforts

Despite a decade of effort, the Health Care Financing Administration has failed to bolster its information systems, according to a General Accounting Office report issued Jan. 17.

The report said HCFA, which administers the Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor, scrambled to make the agency Year 2000-compliant but subsequently ignored broader problems involving information technology.

"These system renovations, however, put broader modernization plans on the back burner until recently," GAO said in its Performance and Accountability Series report on the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes HCFA.

Some of the work on Medicare and Medicaid's antiquated operating systems has begun, but "completion of its systems modernization remains years away," according to the report.

HCFA has been trying since the early 1990s to replace Medicare's multiple computer systems with a single, technologically advanced one. But the agency has failed to initiate any real changes.

In addition, the report found, HCFA's financial management systems are a disaster and need a comprehensive strategy to deal with management and accountability issues. The agency is working on its integrated financial management information systems, but they will not be ready for use until 2004 at the earliest.

In the meantime, HCFA and its contractors must put interim controls in place. Without them, HCFA is "not in a position to generate the consistent and accurate data needed to ensure the integrity of the agency's financial management operations," the GAO report stated.

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