Medical Equipment Readiness Uncertain

About two-thirds of doctors, hospitals and nursing homes report that their billing and medical records computer systems have been fixed for Year 2000 operation, but less than half said they had finished checking their biomedical equipment, a federal survey shows.

The survey findings, collected in July and released yesterday, indicate progress in Y2K readiness when compared against a similar survey conducted six months ago. Both surveys were conducted by the inspector general at the Health and Human Services Department.

Despite the progress, deputy inspector general George S. Grob said the survey found "a great lack of testing." Officials said the health care industry needs to redouble testing efforts to ensure doctors and hospitals can exchange electronic data with federal agencies, insurance companies and those that process patient bills.

Federal officials fear significant numbers of doctors, nursing home and home health care agencies could face a cash flow crisis in January if they cannot submit electronic claims to Medicare.

Antarctic Airlift Set

Ski-equipped cargo planes will head for the South Pole this week to airlift a doctor who discovered a lump in her breast during the Antarctic winter, the National Science Foundation said.

"They will fly to Antarctica and stand by to bring Dr. [Jerri] Nielsen out about the same time she would have come out anyway," NSF spokesman Peter West said.

Nielsen probably would have been able to leave by late October or so under normal conditions, as the Southern Hemisphere spring progresses and landing conditions become more favorable, he said.

Minimum Wage Efforts

House Democrats began a petition drive aimed at forcing Republicans to quickly schedule a vote on a bill increasing the minimum wage by $1 over two years.

Republicans, meanwhile, were struggling to put together a companion package of tax breaks that would offset the costs to business of increasing the wage, which is now $5.15 an hour. One alternative would also boost the wage by $1.30 over four years.

Accusing the GOP of stalling, Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.) began circulating a "discharge petition," requiring that the bill be brought to the House floor if 218 members sign on.

Pentagon Pay Raise

President Clinton signed a $289 billion defense bill that includes a pay raise and other incentives the Pentagon hopes will aid troop recruitment and retention.

Clinton said the pay package, including a 4.8 percent across-the-board raise effective Jan. 1 and a change in pay scales effective next July, represents the biggest increase in a generation.

"The excellence of our military is the direct product of the excellence of our men and women in uniform," he said. "This bill invests in that excellence."