Beating the ‘bugs’ in Medicaid

Seven years ago, the Georgia Medicaid program turned on the switch to a new information system, and the state’s medical industry went dark.

The startup created frustrating delays in Medicaid payments for doctors, hospitals and other medical providers. Then, when the money came, the amounts often fell short of what was owed. Mom-and-pop businesses relying on Medicaid payments reported thousands of dollars in unpaid claims. Meanwhile, website access was spotty, and people calling to seek assistance ran into busy signals and lengthy hold times.

The 2003 snags came to be known as “a debacle’’ for the Medicaid program, which covers more than 1 million poor or disabled Georgians. The payment glitches proved so hard to resolve that they held up financial statements for the state. The company that ran the IT system, Affiliated Computer Services, engaged in a long dispute with the state over the $350 million, five-year contract.

So the medical industry was understandably jittery this Nov. 1, when a new information system debuted for the Medicaid program. Thus far, though, the new system appears to be working without major problems, says the Department of Community Health, which oversees the Medicaid and PeachCare programs in the state.

Agency spokeswoman Lisa Marie Shekell said Wednesday that while there have been some bumps in the road, including a few connection problems, the bills are getting paid. Customer service has been good, added Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, an association of rural hospitals in the state. The Georgia Hospital Association agreed with the assessment of no major trouble, though GHA’s Carie Summers added, “It’s a little early — we’re only 10 days into it.”

Another entity with a big stake in the program’s success is HP, the information system vendor. The company has a $391 million contract over five years to run the Medicaid system in Georgia. “The new system is functioning normally,’’ said HP spokesman Bill Ritz. “We’re pleased with the performance.’’