Agencies not ready for millennium

Pharmaceutical Representative

Seven federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, could miss deadlines for government year 2000 compliance if they don't quicken their efforts, according to a report from the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Seven federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, could miss deadlines for government year 2000 compliance if they don't quicken their efforts, according to a report from the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The federal government has launched an all-out attack on the "year 2000 bug" in an effort to avert predicted widespread computer/information systems failure. Because many computers use two digits to record the date, they may be unable to properly recognize the year 2000 when it arrives. These computers may, on Jan. 1, 2000, recognize "00" not as 2000 but as 1900. This problem may cause such computers to stop running or to start generating erroneous data.

All Department of Health and Human Services programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, are affected to some degree. If not fixed, enrollment systems might not function, beneficiaries could be denied services because providers may not be able to confirm eligibility, and providers could have cash flow problems because of delayed payments.

Among the Department of Health and Human Services' agencies, HCFA represents a "serious concern," the report stated, because some internal and many external systems will fail to meet the Dec. 31, 1998, remediation date. HCFA's cost estimates have also increased dramatically during the past quarter.

"Achievement of the Department of Health and Human Services' and government-wide milestones will require an extraordinary acceleration of the remediation process in the last three months of 1998, leaving very little margin for error to deal with unforeseen and unanticipated problems," the office stated.

HCFA responded to the report's criticism quickly - and somewhat defensively.

"As an agency, we face unique challenges because most of our mission-critical systems, those that process Medicare claims, are controlled and operated by private insurance companies, as the law requires," said HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann DeParle. "We have only recently been able to change our contracts with these contractors to require year 2000-compliance, and we are closely monitoring their progress. We will continue to demand that our contractors work aggressively to become year 2000-compliant." PR