Magazine article Information Management

Social Security Digitizes Claims Process

Magazine article Information Management

Social Security Digitizes Claims Process

Article excerpt

The U.S. Social Security Administration hopes its efforts to go paperless by 2005 will save money and ease the crushing backlogs that have plagued the program for more than a decade.

For more than 70 years, the agency has relied on paper files. But Social Security Administrator Jo Anne B. Barnhart has promised that the agency will go paperless by creating electronic folders for the millions of people who apply for disability benefits each year. This technology will enable multitudes of agencies and doctors to handle the millions of claims documents by using common folders online.

According to The Washington Post, Barnhart's plan is to use technology to allow greater data sharing over networks. The agency has hired IBM to help it build a giant 52-terabyte electronic repository that will be accessible to U.S. users. According to IBM, the agency has undertaken one of the biggest content management systems in the world. Indeed, the five-part system is so ambitious that the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report this year concluding that the agency was moving too quickly by starting a national rollout in January with out first doing adequate pilot testing or resolving several technical challenges. Because Social Security is introducing its system in stages and starting new features before others are completed, the agency "lacks assurance that the interrelated components will work together," the GAO told Congress in March.

But Social Security is moving ahead with the project, estimating it will cost about $800 million over seven years, in hopes that the effort will save $1.3 billion in reduced costs for paper-handling, mailing, and folder storage. Barnhart told Congress end-to-end testing would have delayed the project by three years.

In the past, everything about a claim either arrived at the agency on paper or subsequently was printed on paper. All documents were stored inside folders that could expand to be five or six inches thick. Folders were mailed to hearing examiners, medical consultants, appellate judges and others--and were often lost. Manual photocopying, along with the time-consuming task of renumbering documents in each folder for appeals, was common.

The Post reports that the agency's new electronic claims system consists of five technology pieces that all center around an electronic folder. …

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