HCFA and its contractors will likely fail to meet deadlines for essential Medicare computer system updates for the year 2000, according to a new congressional report. Those failures may lead to interrupted benefits processing and services, the report said.
The report is the latest in a series criticizing HHS' readiness for the year 2000. Two other reports from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee gave the department a grade of "F" (June 8, p. 9; Sept. 14, p. 16).
The General Accounting Office report said HCFA and its contractors are "severely behind schedule" in making year-2000 adjustments to computer systems. The agency lacks the management practices necessary to direct its adjustments, the report said (See related story, p. 88).
HCFA data show that as of June 30, fewer than one-third of its "mission-critical" systems had been renovated to represent the year 2000 in date-related functions, according to the report.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, reported that HCFA has neither developed a schedule for its information systems overhaul nor determined a way to identify and rank those tasks to ensure completion.
HCFA has also been slow in developing contingency plans for year-2000-related computer failures, the report said.
The White House Office of Management and Budget set a Sept. 30 deadline for agencies to adjust their systems. Those changes must be tested by Jan. 31, 1999, and implemented by March 31, 1999.
In a statement, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, called the GAO's findings "alarming." His committee is one of the panels that requested the report.
"It gives us the strongest indication yet that Medicare computers won't be ready for the year 2000," Grassley said. "It also indicates to me that HCFA is far behind in developing contingency plans for a computer failure that is likely to happen. This is unacceptable."
HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann Min DeParle said the agency has begun to execute several GAO recommendations, and 85% of the tasks that needed to be done by Sept. 30 have been completed.