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The Context of Y2K for Healthcare: 1999 vs. 2013

By Clive Riddle, August 22, 2013

I was surprised to see this headline pop up in my email – Will health insurance exchange launches be the 'next Y2K'? from an article in the August 12, 2013 issue of FierceHealthIT.  Intrigued, I clicked to find the article subheader warning that “Some computer experts warn of possibility of system overload.”

Further intrigued, I started googling Y2K and Health Insurance Exchanges.  On the same day, Benefitspro ran this article: IT threatens exchange enrollment which reported that “at this summer’s Colorado State Association of Health Underwriters’ annual symposium in Denver, one speaker warned the exchange launch could be the “next Y2K” — millions of Americans logging on in October might overwhelm the exchanges.”

Just below that, my search results displayed:  Y2K All Over Again. Can the Insurance Marketplaces Handle Opening Day? from the  Navix Blog (an on-line insurance brokerage company ) posted on August 5th.

My bemusement connected with these analogies? Their references to Y2K were in the 1999 context – warning us of all the monumental problems that would unfold after the event.  The correct post-Y2K context of using the term Y2K would seem to be, referring  all the preparation that is involved for such an undertaking, not the aftermath (which by the way didn’t bring about a zombie apocalypse or the crash of modern society as we know it.)

So I googled on – there wasn’t a preponderance of current health insurance exchange references, but there were a number of references to the ICD-10 conversion and Y2K, such as Deadline ICD-10: Y2K all over again? from Health Management Technology in December 2010 and more recently - Schools beef up medical coder ranks before ‘Y2K of health care’ from the South Florida Business Journal, on February 15, 2013. All in all there were 8,120 google search results for ICD-10 combined with Y2K. But in this case, the articles mostly seemed to get the context right – the emphasis was on preparation.

Then I found where the references started crawling out of the woodwork: with the more broad-brush of Obamacare.  A whopping 1,110,000 google search results were yielded with Obamacare combined with Y2K. The specifics of these articles were all over the map: Obamacare's Y2K: Coverage for pre-existing conditions and Y2K was a Breeze Compared to State IT Prep for ObamaCare for example. The context for use of Y2K (maybe for Obamacare we could call it YOb) was a mixed bag. But the 1999 context was way too prevalent in the limited click-thrus I browsed – with a common denominator being that the political oriented rants seemed to get it wrong the most. 

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