ALEXANDRIA, VaThe Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA),
the federal agency that pays Medicare claims, expects to be doing
business as usual on January 1, 2000, and beyond despite Y2K, said
Joseph Broseker, Jr., Y2K Coordinator at the HCFA headquarters,
The Y2K problem threatens to cause computers around the world to
malfunction when they must deal with dates at the beginning of the
21st century. However, the giant agency is confident that it will
fill claims as well as we do today, Mr. Broseker assured
a plenary session at the 25th Annual Meeting of the Association of
Community Cancer Centers (ACCC).
No matter how well were able to pay claims, we cant
pay them if we dont receive them, he continued,
expressing concern that many health care providers do not appear to
be making adequate preparations. In fact, HCFA now requires that
claims use a new date format in which the year consists of four
digits rather than two. Since April 5, claims filed without the new
format have been returned as unprocessed.
HCFA is concerned, he said, about providers
ability to give care if computer problems prevent them from receiving
timely reimbursements. After spending $100 million last year
and the same amount this year to prepare its own computers, the
agency has also taken an unprecedented program to prepare health care
providers to be able to continue submitting claims, he said.
HCFA has already mailed individual letters to more than 1.3 million
health care providers across the nation, warning them of the looming
problem and informing them of resources to help them make their
systems Y2K compliant.
It has also, in cooperation with the Small Business Administration,
scheduled a series of informational conferences at various locations
across the country on the potential effect of Y2K on medical devices,
pharmaceutical supplies, and HCFA services. These meetings will also
discuss Small Business Administration loans that are available to
help defray the cost of making systems Y2K compliant.
Local-level learning sessions will also take place in a number of
locations convenient to rural providers in various parts of the
country. Information is available at www.hcfa.gov or by telephoning
There is time to do a lot yet, Mr. Broseker said,
explaining the steps that HCFA has taken to make its systems Y2K
compliant. We had an enormous problem with huge amounts of
outdated computer code, he said. HCFA has updated and tested
for Y2K compliance almost 100 mission-critical computer systems.
Without these, we would fail our mission, he said.
Medicare systems involve more than 50 million lines of code, 70
Medicare contractors, more than 400 managed care organizations, and
thousands of data exchange partners. At present, 200 federal
employees are working full-time to test HCFAs systems. In
addition, an independent contractor has also tested and verified
HCFAs Medicare claims processing system.
Because of the enormous size of the task, the agency has had to delay
other work in order to have the resources to prepare for Y2K. The
agencys Administrator, however, made uninterrupted service the
top priority, Mr. Broseker said.
All of the agencys internal systems are now Y2K compliant, and
most of these are already in operation under their new formats, he
said. More than two thirds of the agencys internal systems met
a December 31, 1998, deadline for compliance, and nearly all of the
rest did so by March 31, 1999. HCFA will also check to see if various
managed care systems are also prepared.
Any health care organization will face some of the same list of
problems that confronted HCFA, he said. He cautioned that, come
the year 2000, HCFA will not provide advance payments to tide
providers over in case their billing systems fail.
Software Vendors Concerns
Mr. Broseker also noted that software vendors have expressed concern
that large numbers of health care providers do not seem to be
ordering Y2K-compliant versions of crucial software programs. The
suppliers fear being overwhelmed with customer demand, and unable to
provide service to customers in trouble, as the year 2000 approaches.
Newly purchased off-the-shelf software may take some time to
adapt, Mr. Broseker warned, and in some cases will require new
hardware, which will cause even longer delays. He emphasized the
importance of providers talking with their suppliers of computer
systems, as well as those who provide and service their medical
devices, to see which equipment needs testing and how, if necessary,
it can be made Y2K compliant.