The Department of Health and Human Services faced a number of computer and telecommunications problems this week when it officially opened Medicare’s prescription drug plan for the elderly, as reported today by National Journal’s Technology Daily.
“Computer glitches, incomplete medical information and jammed telephone lines were among the reported problems that surfaced in the first days of Medicare’s plan, which was enacted in 2003 and fully implemented Sunday,” the online newsletter reports. “Some beneficiaries in Maine, Massachusetts, New York and elsewhere reported that their information could not be found in the Medicare database.”
In addition, some pharmacists who accessed the Medicare database to determine a customer’s eligibility for the drug benefit experienced slow responses. When the pharmacists called the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and healthcare plans to check on eligibility, they encountered busy phones and long wait times.
NDCHealth, a healthcare technology company that handles the electronic verification of program beneficiaries for Medicare, conducted hardware and software fixes to improve response times, and by Wednesday pharmacists and others were experiencing normal sub-second response times.
The company is still working with the federal government to update the Medicare beneficiary database that stores data on eligibility. About 21 million Americans are eligible for the drug plan benefit.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) sent a letter last week informing CMS of “inaccurate and incomplete information” for about half of the 45,000 eligible beneficiaries in Maine, which is stored in the CMS computer database. Another 35,000 low-income individuals eligible for assistance and enrolled in Maine’s pharmacy assistance program had not been validated in CMS’ database.
By Allan Holmes