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COVID-
19 and opportunities to reboot managed care

09.16.20

Read this if you are a state Medicaid agency, state managed care office, or managed care organization (MCO). 

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn has led to increased Medicaid member enrollment and has placed a strain on state budgets to support Medicaid and other health and human services programs. It has also impacted traditional Medicaid utilization patterns and has challenged provider reimbursement models, forcing managed care programs and supporting MCOs to:

  • rethink the control of program costs, 
  • seek MCO program flexibilities to expand coverage such as telehealth, and 
  • make operational changes to support their growing member populations.

Managed care opportunities

While COVID-19 has created many challenges, at the same time it has given managed care programs the opportunity to restructure their delivery of services not only during the public health emergency, but for the longer term. Flexibilities sought this year from the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) put in place through waivers and state plan amendments have helped expand services in areas such as the delivery of COVID-19 testing, medical supplies, and behavioral health services via telehealth. 

These flexibilities have relieved the administrative burden on Medicaid programs, such as performance and reporting requirements outlined under federal law and 42 CFR §438. Although these flexibilities have helped managed care programs expand services during the pandemic, the benefits are temporary and will require MCOs to make programmatic changes to meet the demands of its population during and after the public health emergency.

A recent study by Families USA cited 38 states reporting 7% growth in member enrollment since February. As the Medicaid population continues to grow in 2020 and beyond, managed care programs have numerous opportunities to consider: 

Managing care coordination and establishing efficiencies with home- and community-based services (HCBS)

The increased risk of adverse health outcomes from COVID-19 due to older age and chronic illness, and the demands on providers and medical supplies, has forced Medicaid programs to seek waiver flexibilities to expand HCBS. As part of HCBS delivery, MCOs may focus on the sickest and most costly of their member populations to control costs and preserve quality. 

MCOs will most likely monitor cost drivers such as chronic conditions, catastrophic health events, and frequent visits to primary care providers and hospitals. MCOs have the opportunity to establish efficiencies and improve transitions across different providers and multiple conditions to better manage the over-utilization of services for members in skilled nursing facilities, and for those who receive HCBS and outpatient services.

Adjusting and monitoring Value-Based Payment (VBP) models

With the continued transition to VBP models, Medicaid programs face the challenge of added costs and adapting plan operations and services to address pandemic-related needs, chronic conditions, and comorbidities. 

Building on the latest guidance to state Medicaid directors from CMS on value-based care, Medicaid programs can look at COVID-19 impacts on provider reimbursement prior to the rollout of VBP models. Medicaid programs can continue establishing payment models that improve health outcomes, quality, and member experience. States can adjust contracts and adherence to local and state public health priorities and national quality measures to advance their VBP strategy. Managed care programs may need to consider a phased rollout of their VBP models to build buy-in from providers transitioning from traditional fee-for-services payment models, and to allow for refinements to current VBP models.

Continued stratification and the assessment of risk

By analyzing COVID-19’s impact on the quality of care and member experience, improved outcomes, and member and program costs, managed care programs can improve their population stratification methodologies factoring as population demographic analysis, social determinants of health, and health status. Adjustments to risk stratification during and after the COVID-19 pandemic will inform the development of provider networks, provider payment models, and services. Taking into account new patterns of utilization across its member population, managed care programs may need to refine their risk adjustment models to determine the sickest and most costly of their populations to project costs and improve the delivery of services and coordination of care for Medicaid members.

Telehealth

As providers transition back to their traditional structures, MCOs can continue to expand telehealth to improve service delivery and to control costs. Part of this expansion will require MCOs to balance the mentioned benefits of the telehealth model with the risk of over-utilization of telehealth services that can lead to inefficiencies and increased managed care program costs. In addition, because of the loosening of federal restrictions on telehealth, managed care programs will most likely want to update program integrity safeguards to reduce the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse in areas such as provider credentialing, personal identifiable information (PII), privacy and security protocols, member consent, patient examinations, and remote prescriptions. 

Continued focus on data improvement and encounter data quality

Encounter data quality and data improvement initiatives will be critical to successfully administer a managed care program. As encounter data drives capitation rates for MCOs, a continued focus on encounter data quality will likely enable Medicaid programs to better leverage actuarial services to establish sound and adequate managed care program rates, better aligning financial incentives and payments to their MCOs. 

States have pursued a number of flexibilities to establish a short-term framework to support their managed care programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the current expansion of services and the need for MCOs to rapidly identify additional areas for operational improvements during the pandemic have allowed Medicaid programs to further analyze longer-term needs of the populations they serve. These developments have also helped programs increase their range of services, to expand and manage their provider networks, and to mature their provider payment models. 

If you would like more information or have questions about opportunities for adjustments to your managed care program, please contact MedicaidConsulting@BerryDunn.com. We’re here to help.
 

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Read this if you are a state Medicaid agency, state managed care office, or managed care organization (MCO).

The November 9, 2020 announcement by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) outlines updates to the 2016 Medicaid & Children's Insurance Program (CHIP) Managed Care Final Rule (Final Rule), which present new challenges to state Medicaid and CHIP managed care programs to interpret the latest CMS guidance that attempts to relieve current administrative burdens and federal regulatory barriers.

Although the latest guidance by CMS attempts to provide potential relief to states to administer their managed care programs, states will need to coordinate with federal and state partners to further understand the latest updates to federal regulations that are presented by the updated Final Rule.

By providing relief for current reporting requirements for program costs, provider rates, network adequacy, and encounter data, this latest change by the administration enables state managed care programs to reassess current operations to update and improve their current service delivery. The updated Final Rule continues CMS’ efforts to transition state managed care and CHIP programs from a fee-for-service delivery system, and to urge state Medicaid and CHIP agencies to continue to implement payment models to improve quality, control costs, and promote innovation.  

Impacts on Medicaid managed care operations 

Changes for states to consider that impact their Medicaid managed care operations based on the latest Final Rule include:

  • Coordination of benefits agreements (COBA): States will have the option to leverage different methodologies for crossover claim distribution to managed care plans, and the updated Final Rule indicates that managed care plans do not have to enter into COBA directly with Medicare.
  • Rate setting and ranges, and development practices: CMS provides the option for states to develop and certify a rate range and has provided clarification and different options for rate setting and development practices.
  • Network adequacy: CMS will allow for states to set quantitative network standards, such as provider to enrollee ratios, to account for increases in telehealth providers and to provide flexibilities in rural areas.
  • Provider directory updates: CMS will allow for less than monthly updates to provider directories due to the increased utilization of digital media by enrollees, emphasizing decreased administrative burden and the costs for state managed care plans. This update also indicates that completion of cultural competency training by providers will no longer be required.
  • Provider termination notices: The latest update increases the length of provider termination notice requirements to 30 calendar days (previously 15 calendar days).
  • Member information requirements: The latest update outlines flexibilities for enrollee materials as it relates to font size and formatting.
  • Quality Rating System (QRS): CMS will be developing a QRS framework in which states must align with, but will be able to develop uniquely tailored approaches for their state.
  • External quality review: States that exempt managed care plans from external quality review activities must post this information on their websites for public access on an annual basis.
  • Grievance and appeal clarifications: The latest update provides clarification that the denial of non-clean claims does not require adverse benefit determination notices and procedures; adjustments and clarification to State Fair Hearing enrollee request timeframes to align with recent Medicaid fee-for-service requirements

CHIP to Medicaid regulatory cross-references

CMS clarifies several CHIP to Medicaid regulatory cross-references. These cross-references include the continuation of benefits during State Fair Hearings, changes to encounter data submission requirements, changes to Medicaid Care Advisory Council (MCAC) requirements, grievance and appeals requirements, and program integrity standards.

Changing demand on managed care programs

The November 9 announcement follows a series of efforts by CMS during the past few years to modify the Final Rule in an attempt to help states meet the changing demands on their managed care programs. For the 2016 Final Rule, CMS formed a working group with the National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) and state Medicaid directors to review current managed care regulations. The recommendations from the group led to public comment in November 2018 with state Medicaid and CHIP agencies, advocacy groups, health care providers and associations, health insurers, managed care plans, health care associations, and the general public. As a result of this public comment effort, the latest Final Rule seeks to streamline current managed care regulations.

The new Final Rule announcement comes after a series of efforts by CMS to offer guidance and make changes to their provider payment models, including its recent September 15 letter to state Medicaid directors that further promotes a strategic shift towards value based payments to transform the alignment of quality and cost of care for Medicaid beneficiaries.

The effective date for the new regulations will be 30 days after publication of the new Final Rule in the Federal Register (target date November 13, 2020), except for additions §§ 438.4(c) and 438.6(d)(6) for Medicaid managed care rating setting periods, which are effective July 1, 2021.

If you would like more information or have questions about interpreting the Final Rule for changes to your managed care program, please contact us.

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The 2020 Final Rule—Understanding new flexibilities to control costs and deliver care

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 a State Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) certification or modernization efforts.

Click on the title to listen to the companion podcast to this article, Medicaid Enterprise Systems certification: Outcomes and APD considerations

Over the last two years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has undertaken an effort to streamline MES certification. During this time, we have been fortunate enough to be a trusted partner in several states working to evolve the certification process. Through this collaboration with CMS and state partners, we have been in front of recent certification trends. The content we are covering is based on our experience supporting states with efforts related to CMS certification. We do not speak for CMS, nor do we have the authority to do so.

How does the focus on outcomes impact the way states think about funding for their Medicaid Enterprise Systems (MESs)?

Outcomes are becoming an integral part of states’ MES modernization efforts. We can see this on display in recent preliminary CMS guidance. CMS has advised states to begin incorporating outcome statements and metrics into APDs, Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and supporting vendor contracts. 

Outcomes and metrics allow states and federal partners to have more informed discussions about the business needs that states hope to achieve with their Medicaid IT systems. APDs will likely take on a renewed importance as states incorporate outcomes and metrics to demonstrate the benefits of their Medicaid IT systems.

What does this renewed importance mean for states as they prepare their APD submissions?

As we’ve seen with initial OBC pilots, enhanced operations funding depends upon the system’s ability to satisfy certification outcomes and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). 

Notably, states should also prepare to incorporate outcomes into all APD submissions—including updates to previously approved active APDs that did not identify outcomes in the most recent submission. 
 
This will likely apply to all stages of a project’s lifecycle—from system planning and procurement through operations. Before seeking funding for new IT systems, states should be able to effectively explain how the project would lead to tangible benefits and outcomes for the Medicaid program.

How do outcome statements align with and complement what we are seeing with outcomes-based or streamlined modular certification efforts?

Outcomes are making their way into funding and contracting vehicles and this really captures the scaling we discussed in our last conversation. States need to start thinking about reprocurement and modernization projects in terms of business goals, organizational development, and business process improvement and redesign. What will a state get out of the new technology that they do not get today? States need to focus more on the business needs and less on the technical requirements.

Interestingly, what we are starting to see is the idea that the certification outcomes are not going to be sufficient to warrant enhanced funding matches from CMS. Practically, this means states should begin thinking critically about want they want out of their Medicaid IT procurements as they look to charter those efforts. 

We have even started to see CMS return funding and contracting vehicles to states with guidance that the outcomes aren’t really sufficiently conveying what tangible benefit the state hopes to achieve. Part of this challenge is understanding what an outcome actually is. States are used to describing those technical requirements, but those are really system outputs, not program outcomes.

What exactly is an outcome and what should states know when developing meaningful outcomes?

As states begin developing outcomes for their Medicaid IT projects, it will be important to distinguish between outcomes and outputs for the Medicaid program. If you think about programs, broadly speaking, they aim to achieve a desired outcome by taking inputs and resources, performing activities, and generating outputs.

As a practical example, we can think about the benefits associated with health and exercise programs. If a person wants to improve their overall health and wellbeing, they could enroll in a health and exercise program. By doing so, this person would likely need to acquire new resources, like healthy foods and exercise equipment. To put those resources to good use, this person would need to engage in physical exercise and other activities. These resources and activities will likely, over time, lead to improved outputs in that person’s heart rate, body weight, mood, sleeping patterns, etc.
 
In this example, the desired outcome is to improve the person’s overall health and wellbeing. This person could monitor their progress by measuring their heart rates over time, the amount of sleep they receive each night, or fluctuations in their body weight—among others. These outputs and metrics all support the desired outcome; however, none of the outputs alone improves this person’s health and wellbeing.

States should think of outcomes as the big-picture benefits they hope to achieve for the Medicaid program. Sample outcomes could include improved eligibility determination accuracy, increased data accessibility for beneficiaries, and timely management of fraud, waste, and abuse.
 
By contrast, outputs should be thought of as the immediate, direct result of the Medicaid program’s activities. One example of an output might be the amount of time required to enroll providers after their initial application. To develop meaningful outcomes for their Medicaid program, states will need to identify big-picture benefits, rather than immediate results. With this is mind, states can develop outcomes to demonstrate the value of their Medicaid IT systems and identify outputs that help achieve their desired outcomes.

What are some opportunities states have in developing outcomes for their MES modernizations?

The opportunities really begin with business process improvement. States can begin by taking a critical look at their current state business processes and understanding where their challenges are. Payment and enrollment error rates or program integrity-related challenges may be obvious starting points; however, drilling down further into the day-to-day can give an even more informed understanding of your business needs. Do your staff end users have manual and/or duplicative processes or even process workarounds (e.g., entering the same data multiple times, entering data into one system that already exists in another, using spreadsheets to track information because the MES can’t accommodate a new program, etc.)? Is there a high level of redundancy? Some of those types of questions start to get at the heart of meaningful improvement.

Additionally, states need to be aware of the people side of change. The shift toward an outcomes-based environment is likely going to place greater emphasis on organizational change management and development. In that way, states can look at how they prepare their workforce to optimize these new technologies.

The certification landscape is seemingly changing weekly as states wait eagerly for CMS’ next guidance issuances. Please continue to check back for in-depth analyses and OBC success stories. Additionally, if you are considering an OBC effort and have questions, please contact our Medicaid Consulting team

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Outcomes and APD considerations

Read this if you’re considering (or in the middle of) an initiative that involves multiple Health and Human Services (HHS) programs or agencies.

During times of tight program budgets and rising need, the chance to collaborate with sister HHS agencies often presents a unique opportunity to do more with less. However, as you might find, these initiatives have their own challenges ranging from the minor (e.g., different program vocabulary) to major considerations (e.g., state and federal funding streams).

While interagency initiatives are worthwhile—usually aiming to reduce silos between HHS programs and better support citizens and staff—they can quickly grow complicated. Whether you’re just starting to think about your next interagency initiative or you’re halfway through, asking the right questions is half the battle. Answering those questions, of course, is the other—and more time-consuming—half!

In our team’s work with states on interagency initiatives, we have found it helpful to focus planning on the following four areas to minimize implementation timelines and maximize stakeholder support:

  • Policy: The sources, both internal and external, that govern who is covered by programs, what services are covered, how services are reimbursed, and how the program is administered
  • Funding: How a program is financed, including cost allocation methodologies, limitations on use of funds, and reporting mechanisms
  • Systems: The technical infrastructure that supports program operations
  • Operations: The staff and physical facilities that make every program possible, including staff resources such as training

Here are some questions you can ask to make the best use of available time, funding, and interagency relationships:

  • What is the goal? Do other departments or units have an aligning goal? Who do you know at those departments or units who could direct you to the best point of contact, the status of the other department or unit’s goal, and the current environment for change? Perhaps you can create a cross-unit team with the other unit(s), resulting in more resources to go around and stronger cross-unit relationships. If the other unit either isn’t ready or has already implemented its change, learning about the unit’s barriers or lessons learned will inform your efforts.
  • What does your governance model look like? Do you have one decision-maker or a consensus-builder leading a team? How does your governance model incorporate the right people from across all agencies so they have a voice? If the process is collaborative, can an oversight entity play a role in resolving disagreements or bottlenecks? Without a governance model, your team might be composed of subject matter experts (SMEs) who feel they do not have authority to make decisions, and the project could stall. On the other hand, if you only have leadership positions on the team without SME representation, the project plan might miss critical factors. Having the right people at the table—with defined lines of expertise, authority, and accountability—increases your chances of success.
  • Which federal partners are involved, who are the points of contact, and how open are they to this change? In addition to providing necessary approvals that could lead to funding, federal partners might offer lessons learned from other states, flexibilities for consideration, or even a pilot project to explore an initiative with you and your state partners. 
  • How will this initiative be funded? If more than one funding stream is available—for example, federal financial participation, grant dollars, state dollars—can (and should) all funding streams be utilized? What requirements, such as permissible use of funds and reporting, do you need to meet? Are these requirements truly required, or just how things have always been done? Some federal matches are higher than others, and some federal dollars can be combined while others must remain separate/mutually exclusive to be reimbursed. One approach for using multiple sources of funding is “braiding”—separate strands that, together, form a stronger strand—versus “blending,” which combines all sources into one pot of funding.
  • What systems are involved? After securing funding, system changes can be the largest barrier to a timely and effective interagency initiative. Many state agencies are already undertaking major system changes—and/or data quality and governance initiatives—which can be an advantage or disadvantage. To turn this into an advantage, consider how to proactively sync your initiative with the system or data initiative’s timing and scope.
     
    • When and how will you engage technical staff—state, vendor, or both—in the discussion?
    • Do these systems already exchange data? Are they modernized or legacy systems? 
    • Do you need to consult legal counsel regarding permissible data-sharing? 
    • Do your program(s)/agencies have a common data governance structure, or will that need to be built? 
    • What is the level of effort for system changes? Would your initiative conflict with other technical changes in the queue, and if so, how do you weigh priority with impacts to time and budget?
  • What policies and procedures will be impacted, both public-facing and internally? Are there differences in terminology that need to be resolved so everyone is speaking the same language? For example, the word “case” can mean something different for Medicaid business staff, child welfare staff, and technical staff.
  • Will this initiative result in fewer staff as roles are streamlined, or more staff if adding a new function or additional complexity? How will this be communicated and approved if necessary? While it’s critical to form a governance model and bring the right people to the table, it’s also imperative to consider long-term stakeholder structure, with an eye toward hiring new positions if needed and managing potential resistance in existing staff. For the project to have lasting impact, the project team must transition to a trained operations team and an ongoing governance model.

Ultimately, this checklist of considerations—goal-setting, decision-making, accountability, federal support, funding, systems, policies and procedures, and staffing—creates a blueprint for working across programs and funding streams to improve services, streamline processes, and better coordinate care.

For more information about interagency coordination, stay with us as we post more lessons learned on the following topics in the coming months: interagency policy, interagency funding, interagency systems, and interagency operations.
 

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Coordinating initiatives across state HHS: Questions to ask

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 a State Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) certification or modernization efforts.

This article is based on the Outcomes-Based Certification scalability and project outcomes podcast:


Over the last two years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has undertaken an effort to streamline MES certification. During this time, we have been fortunate enough to be a trusted partner in several states working to evolve the certification process. Through this collaboration with CMS and state partners, we have been in front of recent certification trends. The content we are covering is based on our experience supporting states with efforts related to CMS certification. We do not speak for CMS, nor do we have the authority to do so.

How might Outcomes-Based Certification (OBC) be applied to more complex areas of the Medicaid enterprise?

The question of scaling—that is, to apply the OBC process to more complex components while maintaining or increasing its level of efficiency—is an important next step in certification. OBC has been (or is being) scaled across the technical components of the MES in two primary ways. First, OBC has already successfully been scaled horizontally across similar but discrete components of the MES such as electronic visit verification (EVV), provider management, or pharmacy. The second, perhaps more interesting way we are seeing OBC scale is vertically. OBC—or what is now being referred to as Streamlined Modular Certification (SMC)—is now being scaled up and into larger and more complex components like financial management and claims processing. Beyond that, however, we are now seeing outcomes-based concepts scale a third way—across the Medicaid business.

How does the certification of one module impact the rest of the MES?

We are seeing CMS and states work through this question every day. What we know for sure is that each state is likely going to draw its own set of boxes around its business modules and service components based on its Medicaid business. Because modularity is only defined at a macro level, states have the freedom to work with their vendors to define the parameters of their modules. As a result, we have seen CMS work with states to define those boxes and in doing so, we are really seeing a three-layered approach.

The first layer represents the primary module a state is certifying. A primary module is that module that is responsible for all or most of a business process such as paying a claim. It is safe to assume that the most detailed evidence will come from the primary module. The second layer represents the module—or modules—that might not have responsibility for a business process, but provide functionality integral to that business process being performed successfully. Finally, the third layer represents the module—or modules—that feed data into the business process, but do little else when it comes to performing that business process. For the second and third layer, a state can likely expect to provide evidence that supports the successful transmission of data at a minimum. This is where we are seeing CMS and states work together to define that scope.

What is the role of business process improvement, organization development, and organizational change management in MES modernizations?

This is really the cornerstone of this fundamental shift in certification we have seen over the last 12-18 months. During the 2020 virtual Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC), we saw that CMS appears to be signaling it is no longer going to readily accept modernization efforts that do not reflect tangible improvements to the Medicaid business. Think about it this way: a state will likely not be able to go to CMS to request enhanced funding simply because it can no longer renew its existing contract vehicles or it is trying to procure new technology that fails to represent a marked improvement over its legacy system. 

As a result, states need to start thinking about reprocurement and modernization projects in terms of organizational development and business process improvement and redesign. What will a state get out of the new technology that they do not get today? That’s the question that needs to be answered. States should begin to focus more on business needs and less on technical requirements. States are used to building a custom, monolithic enterprise, often referred to as a Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS). Today, vendors are bringing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products that allow states to perform business processes more efficiently. In turn, states need to move away from attempting to prescribe how a system should perform and focus on what the system should do. That means less prescriptive requirements and more business-oriented thinking.

Additionally, the concept of outcomes management will become integral to a state’s Advance Planning Document (APD) requests, Request for Proposals (RFP) development, and certification. We are seeing that CMS is beginning to look for outcomes in procurement documents, which is leading states to look critically at what they want to achieve as they seek to charter new projects. One way that a state can effectively incorporate outcomes management into its project development is to identify an outcome owner responsible for achieving those outcomes.

The certification landscape is seemingly changing weekly, as states wait eagerly for CMS’ next guidance issuances. Please continue to check back for in-depth analyses and OBC success stories. Additionally, if you are considering an OBC effort and have questions, please contact our Medicaid Consulting team

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Scaling project outcomes

Read this if you are at a rural health clinic or are considering developing one.

Section 130 of H.R. 133, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (Covid Relief Package) has become law. The law includes the most comprehensive reforms of the Medicare RHC payment methodology since the mid-1990s. Aimed at providing a payment increase to capped RHCs (freestanding and provider-based RHCs attached to hospitals greater than 50 beds), the provisions will simultaneously narrow the payment gap between capped and non-capped RHCs.

This will not obtain full “site neutrality” in payment, a goal of CMS and the Trump administration, but the new provisions will help maintain budget neutrality with savings derived from previously uncapped RHCs funding the increase to capped providers and other Medicare payment mechanisms.

Highlights of the Section 130 provision:

  • The limit paid to freestanding RHCs and those attached to hospitals greater than 50 beds will increase to $100 beginning April 1, 2021 and escalate to $190 by 2028.
  • Any RHC, both freestanding and provider-based, will be deemed “new” if certified after 12/31/19 and subject to the new per-visit cap.
  • Grandfathering would be in place for uncapped provider-based RHCs in existence as of 12/31/19. These providers would receive their current All-Inclusive Rate (AIR) adjusted annually for MEI (Medicare Economic Index) or their actual costs for the year.

If you have any questions about your specific situation, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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Section 130 Rural Health Clinic (RHC) modernization: Highlights

Read this if your agency is involved with COVID-19 vaccination distribution.

Although states have already created COVID-19 vaccination plans, your state can still implement critical strategies to improve your distribution plan. In October 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released the Interim Playbook version 2.0, providing a key framework for states and jurisdictions to build their COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans. The federal government asked that immunization programs in each state plans based on this model. The Playbook contains 15 sections of planning elements for states to consider in the development of their plan. Completing a plan of this extent while simultaneously trying to manage the pandemic has led some states to leave out or not thoroughly address critical components in their plans. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analyzed and collected common themes from each of the 47 state vaccination plans. Their analysis identified areas of weakness in the following areas of each plan: 

  • Priority populations for vaccinations in states 
  • Identifying networks of providers 
  • Developing data collection and reporting
  • Forming communication strategies

Each of the four areas each contained multiple findings, but since the vaccine has already started to roll out, some aspects of the plan cannot be revised. However, it is not too late to improve upon certain elements, especially for data collection and reporting, as well as communication strategies. 

The following recommendations for improvement of state plans are based on the findings from the KFF State COVID-19 vaccine distribution analysis report

States should identify a clear data reporting and collection plan that accounts for the COVID-19-specific data requirements.

According to KFF, an immunization registry or database has been included in 53% of the state COVID-19 plans; in the others it was an unclear component of the plan. The data collection process for COVID-19 vaccinations will be complex and unique due to a number of factors including the nature of a phased rollout, new provider enrollment and onboarding, storage requirements, multiple vaccines and doses, and off-site vaccination locations

Since a little over half of all states have arranged for either new systems or are developing or adding features to current immunization registries, states that are lacking a comprehensive approach could benefit from adopting elements present in the other plans. For example, some states detail how their current immunization system is being utilized for the COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to upgrading certain features in order to meet the anticipated increase in demand. 

Other states have also described their transition to the Immunization Gateway, a centralized technical infrastructure sponsored by the CDC Immunization Information Systems Support Branch, and led by the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Chief Technology Officer. The Gateway is securely hosted through the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL). States can review the data collection and reporting sections of other states’ plans to gain a greater understanding of how their plan can be improved by describing data reporting and collection processes.   

States should address racial and ethnic disparities in vaccine distribution and acceptance through targeted and evidence-based communication strategies. 

The KFF analysis of state COVID-19 plans indicated about 49% of state plans include specific mention of racial or ethnic minority populations in regards to communication. Communication plans need to include targeted strategies as minority populations and people of color have shown greater hesitation in receiving the vaccine, even if it is free and determined safe by scientists and federal authorities. The virus has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and minority populations, and a lack of communication to these populations may continue to enhance these disparate health outcomes.

One way to improve a communication plan by addressing racial or ethnic minority populations would be by incorporating the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), specifically the standards for Communication and Language Assistance:

  • Offer language assistance to individuals who have limited English proficiency and/or other communication needs, at no cost to them, to facilitate timely access to all health care and services
  • Inform all individuals of the availability of language assistance services clearly and in their preferred language, verbally and in writing
  • Ensure the competence of individuals providing language assistance, recognizing that the use of untrained individuals and/or minors as interpreters should be avoided
  • Provide easy-to-understand print and multimedia materials and signage in the languages commonly used by the populations in the service area

A communication plan that considers the racial and ethnic minority populations most vulnerable to adverse health outcomes and have shown a lack of trust in the scientific community would be advisable in order to combat disproportionate negative outcomes from the COVID-19 virus in the future. 

A COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan is an important aspect of each state’s strategy to control the spread of the virus. In order to lead to effective vaccine distribution, it is vital for the plans to thoroughly address data collection, reporting, and tracking. It is also important to consider implementing a communication plan that incorporates strategies to reach racial and ethnic minority groups who might have been disproportionality impacted by COVID-19 as a way to improve your state’s health equity approach to COVID-19 vaccination efforts. By implementing these considerations, your state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan could become more effective in improving the health outcomes of your population. 

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Two ways states can improve their COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans

Read this if you have a responsibility for acquiring and implementing victim notifications for your jurisdiction.

In the first article of this three-part series we explored the challenges and risks associated with utilizing multiple victim notification systems across your state, while the second focused on exploring what the choices are to address these challenges. In this final installment, we demystify the process of developing requirements for a victim notification system. Here are some things to address when developing requirements:

  • Considering all of your victim notification stakeholders and their specific needs
  • “Mining” requirements from your current victim notification system to ensure that your current needs are met in the future system 
  • Determining what the market can support (and what it can’t)
  • Utilizing standards to increase the likelihood that market solutions, designed based on these standards, will meet the needs of your jurisdiction 

Understanding the needs (and wants) of your stakeholder group is critical to defining a successful set of requirements that meets your specific needs. Representative stakeholders may include:

  • Victim advocacy groups (both government run and private sector)
  • Police and sheriff departments
  • Department of Corrections 
  • The courts
  • Probation department
  • Prosecutor offices
  • The victims themselves

Of course the stakeholder group in your jurisdiction may differ, and the needs of these groups will also differ. For example, victims and advocacy groups are concerned about ease of use, accuracy, and timeliness of notifications. Police and sheriff departments may be concerned about ensuring they are meeting their statutory and moral obligations to notify the victims when offenders are released from custody. 

Since these groups have varied needs, it’s important to engage them early and throughout the requirements development process. Talk to them, observe their practices, and review their current systems. It’s possible, for example, that it’s important that sheriff departments can integrate their jail management system to the replacement victim notification system and the integration creates a seamless and timeline notification process when an offender is processed out of jail and into the community. Because the Department of Corrections is designed to hold offenders for a longer period of time, the department may require that their offender management system triggers an alert to victims when pre-release planning activities begin.

Scaling victim notification systems

Utilization of victim notification systems can also include a broad spectrum; from a single jail engaging with a victim notification system vendor to provide specific notification services, to a statewide victim notification system that provides these services for the larger stakeholder group. Because of this, your requirements must reflect that “scale.” Consider the utilization of the system before developing your requirements so that you don’t over (or under) engineer the system for your jurisdiction.

As mentioned in the second article in this series, there are many victim notification system options to consider, from home-grown applications to turnkey software as a service (SaaS) services. Regardless of the path you choose, consider leveraging the victim notification system standards as defined by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA SAVIN Guidelines). These guidelines and standards are terrific sources for victim notification system requirements, and can be thought-provoking as you engage your stakeholder groups. 

Though these standards are extremely useful, be sure to identify and include any jurisdiction-specific needs in your set of requirements. They may be driven by state statutes or by local policy or process. In defining your unique requirements, just ask, “Why are they important? Were they defined based on processes put in place because you don’t have a strong victim notification system, or are they critical to satisfying statute or policy?”

Stakeholder communication and engagement

Once you develop a preliminary set of requirements, it’s important to meet with the stakeholder groups to refine and prioritize the requirements. This exercise will result in a clear and concise set of requirements that are understandable by victim notification system vendors that may be responding to the resulting solicitation. When defining the requirements themselves, we find it useful to follow the guidelines from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) called “IEEE Recommended Practice for Software Requirements Specifications.” According to the IEEE standard, good software and hardware requirements should be: 

  1. Correct
  2. Unambiguous
  3. Complete
  4. Consistent
  5. Ranked for importance
  6. Verifiable
  7. Modifiable
  8. Traceable

Prioritization of the requirements also helps responding vendors understand which requirements are most important to your jurisdiction. This prioritization model can also be used when scoring the vendors’ responses to the requirements once proposals have been received. 

Conclusion

In summary, it is important your victim notification system requirements reflect the needs of your stakeholders, are realistic, and clear. Vendors will be asked to respond to how they can accommodate the requirements, so using the IEEE method described above can be useful. 

Though this article doesn’t dive deeply into the development of the request for proposals (RFP) for the victim notification system, below are some actions to take to improve your chances for a successful system selection project:

  1. Define a meaningful project scope to scale the vendor market
  2. Assign a balanced evaluation committee with impartial scoring criteria
  3. Craft a structured procurement package that attracts multiple vendors
  4. Design a reasonable and achievable RFP schedule of events
  5. Reduce ambiguity and increasing clarity of RFP terms

If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact our Justice & Public Safety consulting team. We’re here to help. The BerryDunn team has developed a mature methodology for determining victim notification system requirements, and has a rich repository of requirements to start with so that you don’t need to start from scratch.
 

Article
Victim notification system requirements: It's easier (and harder) than you think

Read this if you are a state Medicaid agency (SMA) or managed care organization (MCO).

Value-based care (VBC) can help stabilize healthcare revenues during times of unexpected challenges and market volatility. Implementing or solidifying value-based payment (VBP) or purchasing arrangements between payers and providers is one pathway to stabilizing provider revenues, especially during the era of COVID-19.

On September 15, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a letter to state Medicaid directors (SMDs) on how states can advance VBC across healthcare systems. Earlier in 2020, the CMS Administrator indicated that value-based or capitated payments can help promote provider resiliency, allowing providers to focus on quality of care as opposed to increasing utilization for short-term reimbursement gains. 

Promoting the adoption of VBC in Medicaid managed care is a long-term strategy to create stable and predictable revenues for providers, and potentially critical to successfully react to market disruptions caused by COVID-19. Providers are encouraged or obligated to see patients to drive quality outcomes, receiving VBPs or capitation that shifts revenue streams away from traditional fee-for-service models. VBP arrangements focus on quality of care, and can promote beneficiary health while reducing total costs.

A roadmap to advancing VBP in Medicaid

As healthcare costs continue to increase, states, payers, and providers have started transitioning to VBC to reimburse services based upon particular conditions (e.g., diabetes), Episodes of Care (EOC) (e.g., pregnancy and delivery), or different population healthcare needs (e.g., immunizations and well-child visits). VBP arrangements can incentivize the delivery of healthcare innovations that prioritize care coordination and quality outcomes over volume of services rendered, and help to avoid waste and duplication of services. VBP seeks to incentivize providers based on performance, and can result in shared savings for both providers and healthcare payers.

While many states have made significant progress moving towards VBP arrangements in their Medicaid managed care programs, data from the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network (HCP-LAN) indicates there is still opportunity for improvement. In 2018, 90% of Medicare payments were made through a VBP arrangement, yet only 34% of Medicaid payments were made through VBP.  

Through its recent guidance, CMS provides a roadmap, strategies, and alternative payment methodology frameworks for states and health plans to implement successful VBP models in collaboration with the provider community. Key considerations for successful VBP implementation include:

  • Defining level and scope of financial risk, and developing associated performance benchmarks
  • Selecting established quality metrics that incentivize provider performance without undue administrative burden
  • Encouraging multi-payer participation (e.g., Medicaid managed care, Medicare, commercial health plans) to align provider incentives across payers and delivery systems
  • Advancing Health Information Technology (HIT) capabilities across providers and delivery systems
  • Assessing health plan and provider/delivery system readiness
  • Promoting stakeholder engagement and transparency
  • Developing VBC programs focusing on sustainability

Regarding HIT and the exchange of data between providers, MCOs, and SMAs, CMS recommends states take advantage of the Advanced Planning Document (APD) process to request 90/10 funding to address technology infrastructure needs associated to help implement a robust VBC program and help ensure delivery system readiness. Facilitating data sharing and promoting real-time and reliable data transactions between payers and providers engaged in VBC is critical to measurement, monitoring, and programmatic success. Additionally, SMAs can leverage VBP arrangements to focus on areas of waste in the healthcare system, including care delivery, and care coordination. 

If you would like more information or have questions about VBC and guidance on assessing, developing or implementing changes to your managed care program, please contact us. We also offer services related to value-based payment, as detailed here. We’re here to help.

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Value-based care to increase provider and delivery system resiliency