Y2K - Congress Told
Patient Care Problems
Could Be Serious
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 subcommittee said.