With eight weeks to go before the calendar rolls over to the year 2000, the Health Care Financing Administration is giving hospitals, long-term care facilities and other healthcare facilities a last-minute opportunity to see if their billing systems will communicate with Medicare's systems.
HCFA designated Nov. 15-20 as "National Medicare Y2K Testing Week." During the week of testing, providers and their billing agents or clearinghouses will be able to test their billing systems, identify any problems with Medicare claims submissions and fix any software and hardware glitches that may come up.
Medicare's systems have been certified as Y2K-ready to process and pay all Medicare claims beginning Jan. 1.
"Even if health care providers get a late start in readying their systems, they shouldn't let that stop them from taking any action at all," said Nancy-Ann DeParle, HCFA administrator. "It's important that healthcare providers make contingency plans to ensure they will be able to run their business after Jan. 1, 2000."
HCFA was quick to point out that healthcare facilities can still conduct testing after Nov. 20.
Earlier testing by Medicare contractors demonstrated that some submitters and providers who thought they were Y2K-ready actually were not. Submitters who sent claims with the dates in an eight-digit format found that simply using that format was not the same as being Y2K-ready. Instead, they need to remediate their office computer codes and, in some cases, deal with computers that are programmed to place a 19 at the beginning of each 4-digit year.
A survey of healthcare providers conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General found that providers generally reported improvements in the Y2K readiness of their billing systems, medical records systems and biomedical equipment, and that their contingency plans were in place. Still, HCFA noted that while providers have become better prepared to handle any Y2K-related problems, many more still have work to do.
To avoid having payment problems in the year 2000, HCFA recommended providers to take three steps:
Schedule future-date testing with the appropriate Medicare carrier or fiscal intermediary so that the submitter's own system can be assessed
Consult HCFA's Web site at www.hcfa.gov/y2k or call the toll-free Y2K information line -- 800-958-HCFA -- for information and telephone numbers of Medicare contractor contacts
Make a contingency plan, or alternative-operating plan, in case of an office- or billing-system failure
Edited by Rick Dana Barlow
For another story on the Year 2000 issue, click here.