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Considering cannabis: How state liquor agencies can manage the growing industry

11.06.19

Editor's note: read this blog if you are a state liquor administrator or at the C-level in state government. 

Surprisingly, the keynote address to this year’s annual meeting of the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) featured few comments on, well, alcohol. 

Why? Because cannabis is now the hot topic in state government, as consumers await its legalization. While the thought of selling cannabis may seem foreign to some state administrators, many liquor agencies are―and should be―watching. The fact is, state liquor agencies are already equipped with expertise and the technology infrastructure needed to lawfully sell a controlled substance. This puts them in a unique position to benefit from the industry’s continued growth. Common technology includes enterprise resource planning (ERP) and point-of-sale (POS) systems.

ERP

State liquor agencies typically use an ERP system to integrate core business functions, including finance, human resources, and supply chain management. Whether the system is handling bottles of wine, cases of spirits, or bags of cannabis, it is capable of achieving the same business goals. 

The existing checks and balances on controlled substances like alcohol in their current ERP system translate well to cannabis products. This leads to an important point: state governments do not need to procure a new IT system solely for regulating cannabis.

By leveraging existing ERP systems, state liquor agencies can sidestep much of the time, effort, and expense of selecting, procuring, and implementing a new system solely for cannabis sales and management. In control states, where the state has exclusively control of alcohol sales, liquor agencies are often involved in every stage of product lifecycle, from procurement to distribution to retailing.

With a few modifications, the spectrum of business functions that control states require for liquor—procuring new product, communicating with vendors and brokers, tracking inventory, and analyzing sales—can work just as well for cannabis.

POS

POS systems are necessary for most retail stores. If a state liquor agency decides to sell cannabis products in stores, they can use a POS system to integrate with the agency’s ERP system, though store personnel may require training to help ensure compliance with related regulations.

Cannabis is cash only (for now)

There is one major difference in conducting liquor versus cannabis sales at any level: currently states conduct all cannabis sales in cash. With cannabis illegal on the federal level, major banks have opted to decline any deposit of funds earned from cannabis-related sales. While some community banks are conducting cannabis-related banking, many retailers selling recreational cannabis in places like Colorado and California still deal in cash. While risky and not without challenges, these transactions are possible and less onerous to federal regulators. 

Taxes 

As markets develop, monthly tax revenue collections from cannabis continue to grow. Colorado and California have found cannabis-related tax revenue a powerful tool in hedging against uncertainty in year-over-year cash flows. Similar to beer sold wholesale, which liquor agencies tax even in control states, cannabis can be taxed at multiple levels depending on the state’s business model.

E-commerce

Even with liquor, few state agencies have adopted direct-to-consumer online sales. However, as other industries continue shifting toward e-commerce and away from brick and mortar retailing, private sector competition will likely feed increased consumer demand for online sales. Similar to ERP and POS systems, states can increase revenue by selling cannabis through e-commerce sales channels. In today’s online retail world, many prefer to buy products from their computer or smart phone instead of shopping in stores. State agencies should consider selling cannabis via the web to maximize this revenue opportunity. 

Applying expertise in the systems and processes of alcoholic beverage control can translate into the sale and regulation of cannabis, easing the transition states face to this burgeoning industry. If your agency is considering bringing in cannabis under management, you should consider strategic planning sessions and even begin a change management approach to ensure your agency adapts successfully. 

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Read this if you are a behavioral health agency leader looking for solutions to manage mental health, substance misuse, and overdose crises.

As state health departments across the country continue to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, stalling vaccination rates, and public heath workforce burnout, other crises in behavioral health may be looming. Diverted resources, disruption in treatment, and the mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health disorders, substance use, and drug overdoses.

State agencies need behavioral health solutions perhaps now more than ever. BerryDunn works with state agencies to mitigate the challenges of managing behavioral health and implement innovative strategies and solutions to better serve beneficiaries. Read on to understand how conducting a needs assessment, redesigning processes, and/or establishing a strategic plan can amplify the impact of your programs. 

Behavioral health in crisis

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders has steadily increased over the past decade, and the pandemic has exacerbated these trends. A number of recently released studies show increases in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. One CDC study indicates that in June 2020 over 40% of adults reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, which includes about 13% who have started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.1 

The toll on behavioral health outcomes is compounded by the pandemic’s disruption to behavioral health services. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 65% of behavioral health organizations have had to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients, even as organizations see a dramatic increase in the demand for services.2,3 Moreover, treatment facilities and harm reduction programs across the country have scaled back services or closed entirely due to social distancing requirements, insufficient personal protective equipment, budget shortfalls, and other challenges.4 These disruptions in access to care and service delivery are having a severe impact.

Several studies indicate that patients report new barriers to care or changes in treatment and support services after the onset of the pandemic.5, 6 Barriers to care are particularly disruptive for people with substance use disorders. Social isolation and mental illness, coupled with limited treatment options and harm reduction services, creates a higher risk of suicide ideation, substance misuse, and overdose deaths.

For example, the opioid epidemic was still surging when the pandemic began, and rates of overdose have since spiked or elevated in every state across the country.7 After a decline of overdose deaths in 2018 for the first time in two decades, the CDC reported 81,230 overdose deaths from June 2019 to May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.8 

These trends do not appear to be improving. On October 3, the CDC reported that from March 2020 to March 2021, overdose deaths have increased 29.6% compared to the previous year, and that number will only continue to climb as more data comes in.9  

As the country continues to experience an increase in mental illness, suicide, and substance use disorders, states are in need of capacity and support to identify and/or implement strategies to mitigate these challenges. 

Solutions for state agencies

Behavioral health has been recognized as a priority issue and service area that will require significant resources and innovation. In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra reestablished the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to facilitate collaborative, innovative, transparent, equitable, and action-oriented approaches to address the HHS behavioral health agenda. The 2022 budget allocates $1.6 billion to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, which is more than double the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding and $3.9 billion more than in FY 2020, to address the opioid epidemic in addition to other substance use disorders.10 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate behavioral health issues, states need innovative solutions to take on these challenges and leverage additional federal funding. COVID-19 is still consuming the time of many state leaders and staff, so states have a limited capacity to plan, implement, and manage the new initiatives to adequately address these issues. Here are three ways health departments can capitalize on the additional funding.

Conduct a needs assessment to identify opportunities to improve use of data and program outcomes

Despite meeting baseline reporting requirements, state agencies often lack sufficient quality data to assess program outcomes, identify underserved populations, and obtain a holistic view of the comprehensive system of care for behavioral health services. Although state agencies may be able to recognize challenges in the delivery or administration of behavioral health services, it can be difficult to identify solutions that result in sustained improvements.

By performing a structured needs assessment, health departments can evaluate their processes, systems, and resources to better understand how they are using data, and how to optimize programs to tailor behavioral health services and promote better health outcomes and a more equitable distribution of care. This analysis provides the insight for agencies to understand not only the strengths and challenges of the current environment, but also the desires and opportunities for a future solution that takes into account stakeholder needs, best practice, and emerging technologies. 

Some of the benefits we have seen our clients enjoy as a result of performing a needs assessment include: 

  • Discovering and validating strengths and challenges of current state operations through independent evaluation
  • Establishing a clear roadmap for future business and technological improvements
  • Determining costs and benefits of new, alternative, or enhanced systems and/or processes
  • Identifying the specific business and technical requirements to achieve and improve performance outcomes 

Timely, accurate, and comprehensive data is critical to improving behavioral health outcomes, and the information gathered during a needs assessment can inform further activities that support programmatic improvements. Further activities might include conducting a fit-gap analysis, performing business process redesign, establishing a prioritization matrix, and more. By identifying the greatest needs and implementing plans to address them, state agencies can better handle the impact on behavioral health services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and serve individuals with mental health or substance use disorders more efficiently and effectively.

Redesign processes to improve how individuals access treatment and services

Despite the availability of behavioral health services, inefficient business and technical processes can delay and frustrate individuals seeking care and in some cases, make them stop seeking care altogether. With limited resources and increasing demands, behavioral health agencies should analyze and redesign work flows to maximize efficiency, security, and efficacy. Here are a few examples of process improvements states can achieve through process redesign:

  • Streamlined data processes to reduce duplicative data entry 
  • Automated and aligned manual data collection processes 
  • Integrated siloed health information systems
  • Focused activities to maximize staff strengths
  • Increased process transparency to improve communication and collaboration 

By placing the consumer experience at the core of all services, state health departments can redesign business and technical processes to optimize the continuum of care. A comprehensive approach takes into account all aspects that contribute to the delivery of behavioral health services, including both administrative and financial processes. This helps ensure interconnected activities continue to be performed efficiently and effectively. Such improvements help consumers with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance use disorder) and/or developmental disorders find “no wrong door” when seeking care. 

Establish a strategic plan of action to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

With the influx of available dollars resulting from the American Recovery Plan Act and other state and federal investments, health departments have a unique opportunity to fund specific initiatives to enhance the delivery and administration of behavioral health services. Understanding how to allocate the millions of newly awarded dollars in an impactful and sustainable way can be challenging. Furthermore, the additional reporting and compliance requirements linked to the funding can be difficult to navigate in addition to current monitoring obligations. 

The best way to begin using the available funding is to develop and implement strategic plans that optimize funds for behavioral health programs and services. You can establish priorities and identify sustainable solutions that build capacity, streamline operations, and promote the equitable distribution of care across populations. A few of the activities state health departments have undertaken resulting from the strategic planning initiatives include: 

  • Modernizing IT systems, including data management solutions and Electronic Health Records systems to support inpatient, outpatient, and community mental health and substance use programs 
  • Promoting organizational change management 
  • Establishing grant programs for community-driven solutions to promote health equity for the underserved population
  • Organizing, managing, and/or supporting stakeholder engagement efforts to effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders for a strong and comprehensive approach

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder were areas of concern prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made these issues worse, while adding more administrative challenges. State health departments have had to redirect their existing staff to work to address COVID-19, leaving a limited capacity to manage existing state-level programs and little to no capacity to plan and implement new initiatives. 

The federal administration and HHS are working to provide financial support to states to work to address these exacerbated health concerns; however, with the limited state capacity, states need additional support to plan, implement, and/or manage new initiatives. BerryDunn has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in conducting needs assessments, redesigning processes, and establishing strategic plans that are aimed at amplifying the impact of state programs. Contact our behavioral health consulting team to learn more about how we can help. 

Sources:
Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
National Council for Behavioral Health Polling Presentation, thenationalcouncil.org
The Impact of COVID-19 on Syringe Services Programs in the United States, nih.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
COVID-19-Related Treatment Service Disruptions Among People with Single- and Polysubstance Use Concerns, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Issue Brief: Nation’s Drug-Related Overdose and Death Epidemic Continues to Worsen, American Medical Association
Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, CDC.gov
10 Fiscal Year 2022 Budget in Brief: Strengthening Health and Opportunity for All Americans, HHS.gov

Article
COVID's impact on behavioral health: Solutions for state agencies

Read this if you used COVID-19 relief funds to pay essential workers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Acts allowed states and local governments to use COVID-19 relief funds to provide premium pay to essential workers. Many states took advantage of this opportunity, giving stipends or hourly rate increases to government and other frontline employees who worked during the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, teachers, correctional officers, and police officers.

States’ initial focus was to get the money to the essential workers as quickly as possible, but these decisions may cause them to be out of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. As a result, states should review how the funds were disbursed and if payroll adjustments are necessary. The amount, form, and recipients of the pay varied widely from state to state, making determining whether states are compliant with FLSA and calculating any discrepancies an immensely complex task. 

For example, states that disbursed one-time payments to essential workers will likely be able to treat those payments like standard one-time bonuses, while recurring stipends or hourly rate increases should be included in employee’s regular rate when calculating overtime pay. Because this is an unprecedented situation for both states and the federal government, clear guidance is not yet available from the Department of Labor. 

Fortunately, BerryDunn is already working with clients to review their use of the COVID-19 relief funds to help ensure essential workers were paid fairly. Our team is qualified to guide you through your unique situation and help you remain in compliance with FLSA guidelines.

If you have questions about your particular circumstances, please call our Compliance and Risk Management consulting team. We are here to help and happy to discuss options to pay for these services using federal funds.

Article
Was your COVID-19 essential worker hazard pay FLSA-compliant?

Read this if you are a division of motor vehicles, or interested in mDLs.

It can be challenging to learn about the technical specifications that must be met to safely acquire, implement, and use emerging technologies. And why wouldn’t it be? Technical specifications are full of jargon only a technical expert can understand, and seem to appear out of thin air. Well, BerryDunn is here to help. When it comes to mobile driver’s licenses (mDLs), we’ve got the scoop.

Technical standards are developed by a few large international organizations. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a Swiss-based organization responsible for the development of international standards for technical, industrial, and commercial industries in 165 countries. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is an international standards organization that develops and publishes standards for electronic technologies. The ISO and IEC have been collaborating on international technical standards for mDL technology. Recently, the ISO/IEC finalized and published these standards, which can be purchased on ISO’s website for $198 Swiss francs (about $213 US).

These technical standards cover three key components: 

  • Data exchanged during an mDL transaction
  • Security during online and offline mDL transaction scenarios
  • mDL data model to ensure mDL interoperability 

Data exchange/transaction

Data exchange is the process by which an mDL device is used to provide credentials (e.g., verify age or identity) to an mDL reader. Broadly speaking, data exchange consists of three phases: initialization (activating your device at a store to confirm your identity), device engagement (the mDL device creates a connection with the mDL reader), and data retrieval (the mDL reader requests the appropriate data to continue a transaction). The process can occur when the mDL has an internet connection (online retrieval) or when it does not have an internet connection (offline retrieval). Offline data retrieval can be conducted using a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Near-Field Communication (NFC), or Wi-Fi Aware technologies. These are all methods by which an mDL can connect to mDL readers at short ranges, functionally similar to Apple Pay. Online Data retrieval can be conducted using a web-based application programming interface (WebAPI) or OpenID Connect (OIDC). These are methods by which mDLs connect with the mDL issuer, confirm the mDL holder’s identity, and allow the mDL issuer to transfer data to the mDL reader. In short, an mDL transaction might look something like this:

  1. Initialization: An mDL holder attempts to purchase alcohol from a local store. The mDL holder opens their device, enters their mDL application using a PIN or biometric security feature, and uses NFC or a QR code to initiate a connection between the mDL and mDL reader.
  2. Device engagement: The mDL and mDL reader connect using NFC or a QR code.
  3. Data retrieval: The mDL reader either asks the mDL for data to confirm the holder’s age, or asks the mDL issuer to confirm the mDL holder’s age. Either the mDL or mDL issuer sends appropriate data to the mDL reader to confirm the holder’s age. Once validated, the mDL-reading establishment and mDL holder are free to complete the transaction. 

Security for mobile driver’s licenses 

mDL security aims to protect against four primary threats.

  1. mDL forgery/forgery of data elements
  2. mDL cloning/cloning of data elements
  3. mDL communication eavesdropping
  4. Unauthorized mDL access 

mDL security needs to cover online scenarios, in which an mDL-holder’s device is connected to the internet, as well as offline scenarios, when an mDL holder’s device does not have internet connectivity. Potential mDL security options include: 

  • Authentication of mDL data to protect against data cloning
  • Authentication of the legitimacy of the mDL reader to prevent alteration of communications between the mDL and mDL reader 
  • Session encryption to preserve mDL data confidentiality and prevent mDL data alteration or unauthorized data access
  • Issuer data authentication to ensure the mDL data originates at a legitimate issuing authority

During online retrieval scenarios, mDLs can employ transport layer security (TLS) to preserve the confidentiality of mDL data, or use a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Web Token (JWT) to authenticate mDL data origin.  

mDL technical specifications: Key terms and definitions

Technical specifications are an important, yet confusing aspect of IT system implementations, particularly for emerging technologies where expertise has not yet been established within the market. The same holds true for mDLs. Understanding mDL technical specifications requires understanding the specific terms used to describe the technical specifications along with general mDL terminology. Here’s a list of mDL-related and technical specification terms and definitions.

Key terms and definitions
 

Terms Definitions
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) A form of Bluetooth that provides a wireless connectivity of similar range to traditional Bluetooth at reduced device power consumption.
IEC International Electrotechnical Commission
ISO International Organization for Standardization
JavaScript Object Notation (JSON)  An open standard file format and data interchange format that uses human-readable text to store and transmit data objects.
JSON Web Token (JWT) An object used to transfer information between two parties over the web.
mDL issuer  The department of motor vehicles or bureau of motor vehicles responsible for administering rights to, and overseeing distribution of, mDL data to mDL holders.
mDL holder The person whose data is contained in, and represented by, the mDL.
mDL reader The hardware technology used to consume mDL data from an mDL holder’s device.
mDL-reading establishment The institution consuming mDL data via an mDL reader (e.g., law enforcement, liquor store, Transportation Safety Administration).  
Near-Field Communication (NFC) Communication protocols that allow electronic devices to communicate over distances of 1.5 inches or less (e.g., Apple Pay).
Offline retrieval The mDL holder’s device is not directly connected to an internet network via Wi-Fi or cellular data, requiring the mDL device to hold some mDL data—behind security features (e.g., PIN, or biometric lock)—and, at a minimum, confirm holder identity, driving privileges, age, and residence.
Online retrieval  The mDL holder’s device is connected to an internet network via Wi-Fi or cellular data. Upon request, the mDL holder can initiate a transfer of mDL data using a QR code or web token to approve the sharing of mDL data between the mDL issuer and mDL reader. 
OpenID Connect (OIDC) OpenID Connect is an authentication protocol that allows for the verification of end user identity.
Transport Layer Security (TLS) A cryptographic protocol that provides communication security over a computer network (e.g., between an mDL reader and mDL issuer).
Web Application Programming Interface (API)   An interface for a web server or web browser.
Wi-Fi Aware A Wi-Fi capability that allows devices to discover potential Wi-Fi connections nearby without connecting to them. Wi-Fi Aware runs in the background, and does not require users to have current Wi-Fi or cellular connections.


If you have any questions regarding mDLs and technical requirements, please contact us. We’re here to help. 

Article
mDL technical specifications: Background, terms, and topics

Read this if you are a Chief Financial Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, FINOP, or charged with governance of a broker-dealer.

The results of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s (PCAOB) 2020 inspections are included in its 2020 Annual Report on the Interim Inspection Program Related to Audits of Brokers and Dealers. There were 65 audit firms inspected in 2020 by the PCAOB and, although deficiencies declined 11% from 2019, 51 firms still had deficiencies. This high level of deficiencies, as well as the nature of the deficiencies, provides insight into audit quality for broker-dealer stakeholders. Those charged with governance should be having conversations with their auditor to see how they are addressing these commonly found deficiencies and asking if the PCAOB identified any deficiencies in the auditor’s most recent examination. 

If there were deficiencies identified, what actions have been taken to eliminate these deficiencies going forward? Although the annual report on the Interim Inspection Program acts as an auditor report card, the results may have implications for the broker-dealer, as gaps in audit quality may mean internal control weaknesses or misstatements go undetected.

Attestation Standard (AT) No. 1 examination engagements test compliance with the financial responsibility rules and the internal controls surrounding compliance with the financial responsibility rules. The PCAOB examined 21 of these engagements and found 14 of them to have deficiencies. The PCAOB continued to find high deficiency rates in testing internal control over compliance (ICOC). They specifically found that many audit firms did not obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence about the operating effectiveness of controls important to the auditor’s conclusions regarding the effectiveness of ICOC. This insufficiency was widespread in all four areas of the financial responsibility rules: the Reserve Requirement rule, possession or control requirements of the Customer Protection Rule, Account Statement Rule, and the Quarterly Security Counts Rule.

The PCAOB also identified a firm that included a statement in its examination report that referred to an assertion by the broker-dealer that its ICOC was effective as of its fiscal year-end; however, the broker-dealer did not include that required assertion in its compliance report.

AT No. 2 review engagements test compliance with the broker-dealer’s exemption provisions. The PCAOB examined 83 AT No. 2 engagements and found 19 of them to have deficiencies. The most significant deficiencies were that audit firms:

  • Did not make required inquiries, including inquiries about controls in place to maintain compliance with the exemption provisions, and those involving the nature, frequency, and results of related monitoring activities.
  • Similar to AT No. 1 engagements, included a statement in their review reports that referred to an assertion by the broker-dealer that it met the identified exemption provisions throughout the most recent fiscal year without exception; however, the broker-dealers did not include that required assertion in their exemption reports.

The majority of the deficiencies found were in the audits of the financial statements. The PCAOB did not examine every aspect of the financial statement audit, but focused on key areas. These areas were: revenue, evaluating audit results, identifying and assessing risks of material misstatement, related party relationships and transactions, receivables and payables, consideration of an entity’s ability to continue as a going concern, consideration of materiality in planning and performing an audit, leases, and fair value measurements. Of these areas, revenue and evaluating audit results had the most deficiencies, with 45 and 27 deficiencies, or 47% and 26% of engagements examined, respectively.

Auditing standards indicate there is a rebuttable presumption that improper revenue recognition is a fraud risk. In the PCAOB’s examinations, most audit firms either identified a fraud risk related to revenue or did not rebut the presumption of revenue recognition as a fraud risk. These firms should have addressed the risk of material misstatement through appropriate substantive procedures that included tests of details. The PCAOB noted there were instances of firms that did not perform any procedures for one or more significant revenue accounts, or did not perform procedures to address the assessed risks of material misstatement for one or more relevant assertions for revenue. The PCAOB also identified deficiencies related to revenue in audit firms’ sampling methodologies and substantive analytical procedures. Other deficiencies of note, that were not revenue related, included:

  • Incomplete qualitative and quantitative disclosure information, specifically in regards to revenue from contracts with customers and leases.
  • Missing required elements from the auditor’s report.
  • Missing auditor communications:
    • Not inquiring of the audit committee (or equivalent body) about whether it was aware of matters relevant to the audit.
    • Not communicating the audit strategy and results of the audit to the audit committee (or equivalent body).
  • Engagement quality reviews were not performed for some audit and attestation engagements.
  • Audit firms assisted in the preparation of broker-dealer financial statements and supplemental information.

Although there have been improvements in the amounts of deficiencies found in the PCAOB’s examinations, the 2020 annual report shows that there is still work to be done by audit firms. Just like auditors should be inquiring of broker-dealer clients about the results of their most recent FINRA examination, broker-dealers should be inquiring of auditors about the results of their most recent PCAOB examination. Doing so will help broker-dealers identify where their auditor may reside on the audit quality spectrum. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our broker-dealer services team.

Article
2020 Annual Report on the Interim Inspection Program Related to Audits of Brokers and Dealers

Read this if you are a director or manager at a Health and Human Services agency in charge of modernizing your state's Health and Human Services systems.

With stream-lined applications, online portals, text updates, and one-stop offices serving programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and Child Welfare, states are rapidly adopting integrated systems serving multiple programs. As state leaders collaborate on system design and functionality to meet federal and state requirements, it is equally important to create a human-centered design built for the whole family.

We know families are comprised of a variety of people with various levels of need, and blended families ranging from grandparents to infants may qualify for a variety of programs. We may connect with families who are on Medicaid, aged and disabled or SNAP, but also have cases within child support or with child welfare. 

If your state is considering updating a current system, or procuring for an innovative design, there are key strategies and concepts to consider when creating a fully integrated system for our most vulnerable populations. Below are a few advantages for building a human-centric system:

  • The sharing of demographic, contact, and financial information reduces duplication and improves communication between state entities and families seeking services
  • Improvement of business services and expedited eligibility determinations, as a human-centric model gathers information upfront to reduce a stream of verification requests
  • The cost of ownership decreases when multiple programs share design costs
  • Client portals and services align as a family-focused model

Collaboration and integrated design

How many states use a separate application for Medicaid and SNAP? More specifically, is the application process time consuming? Is the same information requested over and over for each program? 

How efficient (and wonderful) would it be for clients to complete task-based questions, and then each program could review the information separately for case-based eligibility? How can you design an integrated system that aligns with business and federal rules, and state policy?

Once your state has decided a human-centered design would be most beneficial, you can narrow your focus—whether you are already in the RFP process, or within requirements sessions. You can stop extraneous efforts, and change your perspective by asking the question: How can we build this for the entire family? The first step is to see beyond your specific program requirements and consider the families each program serves. 

Integrated design is usually most successful when leaders and subject matter experts from multiple programs can collaborate. If all personnel are engaged in an overarching vision of building a system for the family, the integrated design can be fundamentally successful, and transforming for your entire work environment across agencies and departments.

Begin with combining leadership and subject matter experts from each geographic region. Families in the far corners of our states may have unique needs or challenges only experts from those areas know about. These collaborative sessions provide streamlined communications and ideas, and empower staff to become actively involved and invested in an integrated system design. 

Next, delve into the core information required from each family member and utilize a checklist to determine if the information meets the requirements of the individual programs. Finally, decide which specific data can streamline across programs for benefit determinations. For example, name, address, age, employment, income, disability status, and family composition are standard pieces of information. However, two or more programs may also require documentation on housing, motor vehicle, or retirement accounts.

Maintaining your focus on the families you serve

When designing an integrated system, it is easy to lose focus on the family and return to program-specific requirements. Your leaders and subject matter experts know what their individual programs need, which can lead to debates over final decisions regarding design. It is perfectly normal to develop tunnel vision regarding our programs because we want to meet regulations and maintain funding.

Below are recommendations for maintaining your focus on building for the family, which can start as soon as the RFP. 

  • Emphasize RFP team accountability
    • Everyone should share an array of family household examples who benefit from the various programs (Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, etc.), to help determine how to deliver a full spectrum of services. 
    • Challenge each program with writing their program-specific sections of the RFP and have one person combine the responses for a review session.
  • If the integrated system design is in the requirements phase, brainstorm scenarios, like the benefit example provided in recommendation number one. When information is required by one program, but not another, can the team collaborate and include the information knowing it could benefit an entire family?
  • When considering required tasks, and special requests, always ask: Will this request/change/enhancement help a family, or help staff assist a family?
  • Consider a universal approach to case management. Can staff be cross trained to support multiple programs to reduce transferring clients to additional staff?

We understand adopting a human-centered design can be a challenging approach, but there are options and approaches to help you through the process. Just continue to ask yourself, when it comes to an integrated approach, are you building the system for the program or for the family?

Article
Integrated design and development for state agencies: Building for the family

Read this if you are a State Medicaid Director, State Medicaid Chief Information Officer, State Medicaid Project Manager, or State Procurement Officer—or if you work on State Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) certification or modernization efforts.

As states transition to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) Outcomes-Based Certification (OBC), many jurisdictions are also implementing (or considering implementation of) an Integrated Eligibility System (IES). Federal certification for a standalone Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) comes with its own challenges, especially as states navigate the recent shift to OBC for Medicaid Eligibility and Enrollment (E&E) services. Certification in the context of an IES creates a whole new set of considerations for states, as Medicaid eligibility overlaps with that of benefit programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and others. We’ve identified the following areas for consideration in your own state's IES implementation: 

  • Modernizing MES 
    It's likely your state has considered the pros and cons of implementing an IES, since CMS' announcement of increased federal funds for states committed to building new and/or enhanced Medicaid systems. Determining whether an IES is the right solution is no small undertaking. From coordinating on user design to system security, development of an IES requires buy-in across a wider range of programs and stakeholders. Certification will look different from that of a standalone MES. For example, your state will not only need to ensure compliance with CMS' Minimum Acceptable Risk Standards for Exchanges (MARS-E), but also account for sensitive data, such as medical information, across program interfaces and integration. 

    BerryDunn recommends one of the first steps states take in the planning phase of their IES implementation is to identify how they will define their certification team. Federal certification itself does not yet reflect the level of integration states want to achieve with an IES, and will require as much subject matter expertise per program included in the IES as it requires an understanding of your state's targeted integration outcomes and desired overlap among programs.
  • Scale and scope of requirements
    Once your agency commits to designing an IES, the scope of its solution becomes much broader. With this comes a wider range of contract requirements. Requirements can be program-specific (e.g., relevant only to Medicaid) or program-agnostic (e.g., general technical, "look-and-feel", and security requirements that apply throughout the solution). Common requirements across certain programs (e.g., certain eligibility criteria) will also need to be determined. Requirements validation and the development of Requirements Traceability Matrixes (RTM) per program are critical parts of the development phase of an IES implementation.

    BerryDunn recommends a comprehensive mapping process of requirements to OBC and other federal certification criteria, to ensure system design is in compliance with federal guidance prior to entering go/no-go for system testing phases.
  • Outcomes as they apply across programs
    CMS' transition to OBC changed the way states define their Medicaid program outcomes. Under this new definition outcomes are the value-add, or the end result, a state wishes to achieve as the result of its Medicaid eligibility solution enhancements. In the context of an IES, Medicaid outcomes have to be considered in terms of their relation to other programs. For example, presumptive eligibility (PE) between SNAP and Medicaid and/or cross-program referrals might become more direct outcomes when there is an immediate data exchange between and among programs.

    BerryDunn recommends consideration of what you hope to achieve with your IES implementation. Is it simply an upgrade to an antiquated legacy system(s), or is the goal ultimately to improve data sharing and coordination across benefit programs? While certification documentation is submitted to individual federal agencies, cross-program outcomes can be worked into your contract requirements to ensure they are included in IES business rules and design.
  • Cost allocation
    In the planning phase of any Design, Development, and Implementation (DDI) project, states submit an Advance Planning Document (APD) to formally request Federal Financial Participation (FFP), pending certification review and approval. This APD process becomes more complex in an IES, as states need to account for FFP from federal programs in addition to CMS as well as develop a weighted cost allocation methodology to distribute shares equitably across benefit programs.

    BerryDunn recommends States utilize the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children & Families (ACF), Office of Child Support Enforcement's (OCSE) Cost Allocation Methodologies (CAM) Toolkit to inform your cost allocation model across benefit programs, as part of the APD development process
  • Timeline
    A traditional MES implementation timeline accounts for project stages such as configuration sessions, requirement mapping, design validation, testing, CMS' Operational Readiness Review (ORR), etc. The project schedule for an IES is dependent on additional factors and variables. Scheduling of federal certification reviews for OBC and/or other programs might be held up by project delays in another area of the implementation, and project teams must be agile enough to navigate such changes

    BerryDunn recommends development of a thoughtful, comprehensive project schedule allowing ample time for each project phase across programs. We also recommend states cultivate relationships with federal partners including, but not limited to, CMS, to communicate when a development delay is anticipated. Engaging federal partners throughout the DDI phases will be a critical part of your IES implementation.

In theory, an IES benefits stakeholders on both sides of the system. Caseworkers avoid duplication of efforts, reduce administrative costs, and ensure program integrity, while individuals and families on the receiving end of public benefit programs experience a more efficient, streamlined application process. In practice, the development of a comprehensive business rules, case management, and workflow system across human services programs can prove to be a heavy lift for states, including but not limited to considerations around certification to secure FFP. Planning for the implications of an IES implementation ahead of time will go a long way in preparing your agency and state for this comprehensive certification effort.
 
For further reading
Keep an eye out for the next blog in this series, highlighting certification guidelines across an IES implementation (for CMS and other Federal programs). You can read more on OBC here

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact the Medicaid Consulting team. We’re here to help. 

Article
States transition to Outcomes-Based Certification: Considerations and recommendations