- WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - Billing disruptions in Medicare are likely
to be slight, but patient care problems stemming from malfunctioning medical
equipment could be a major problem on January 1, 2000, witnesses told a
Congressional Hearing Tuesday.
- On the billing side, "I am feeling
more and more confident,'' Health Care Financing Administrator Nancy-Ann
DeParle told a joint hearing of two House Commerce subcommittees. "There
may be some minor disruptions, but no major catastrophes,'' she said. DeParle
said she based her optimism on the fact that more than 90% of providers
met the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) April 5 deadline for
submitting electronic claims in a "Y2K compliant'' format using an
eight-digit date field.
- Joel Willemssen of the General Accounting
Office agreed that HCFA has made progress on its Y2K readiness, although
it still has considerable work to do. But the rest of the healthcare sector,
Willemssen warned, "has not made adequate progress.'' Available information
on Y2K readiness throughout the healthcare sector " including providers,
insurers, manufacturers and suppliers " "indicates much work
remains in renovating, testing, and implementing compliant systems,'' he
testified. ''With just over 8 months until the turn of the century, the
level of progress to date is not reassuring.''
- Willemssen singled out for criticism
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for ensuring
that medical equipment does not malfunction when the year 2000 begins.
While FDA did request information from equipment manufacturers on potential
Y2K problems and posted the information on a website, "it was not
detailed enough to be useful,'' Willemssen testified. "Specifically,
FDA's list of compliant equipment lacked information relating to the particular
make and model of the equipment.''
- Even more serious, said Willemssen, FDA
did not require device makers to submit test results certifying compliance.
When three hospitals sent engineers to independently verify certification
claims, Willemssen testified, "several of these engineers informed
us that their testing identified some noncompliant equipment that the manufacturer
has previously certified as compliant.'' Among those items was a cardiac
catheterization unit, used to treat heart attack patients; a pulse oximeter,
used to measure oxygen levels in the blood; and medical imaging equipment,
used in diagnostic scanning.
- The FDA and representatives of the medical
device industry declined to send witnesses to the hearing, members of the