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COVID-
19 laws and their impact on state public health agencies

By: Sarah Stacki,

Laura Hill is a Consultant with BerryDunn working in the State Government Practice Area. She specializes in public health. She has experience working with state and local government public health agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and healthcare systems on strategic planning and project implementation. In addition, she has specialized training and expertise in food security, outdoor play environments for children, and obesity prevention in children and teens.

 Laura Hill
04.16.20

Read this if you work at a public health department and would like a brief summary of how you can maximize funding and meet new federal requirements.

Unpacking the trillions

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several pieces of legislation were passed by congress and signed into law. The three bills, H.R. 6074 Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and H.R. 748 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, have provided funding for various federal agencies with different roles in responding to the crisis. Because of the urgency required, much of the guidance for use of funds and reporting requirements were released after passage of the bills or have yet to be released.

Here is a brief timeline and summary of the acts:

Implication and next steps for state public health departments

While little guidance has been provided for how state public health departments should prepare to access federal funds, BerryDunn will continue to monitor and release updates as they become available. 

While at this point HR 6074 has the greatest implications for public health departments, here are some actions that states should take now for their public health programs from the recent legislation:

  1. H.R. 6074: Provides appropriations to the CDC to be allocated to states for COVID-19 expenses.
    • To ensure maximum funding, prepare a spend plan to submit to CDC.
    • To ensure compliance, provide CDC with copies or access to COVID-19 data collected with these funds.
    • To maximize the impact of new funding, develop a COVID-19 community intervention plan.
    • To support streamlined operations, submit revised work plans to CDC.
    • To prevent missed deadlines, submit any requests for deadline extensions to the CDC.
  2. H.R. 6201: Provides guidance specific to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs.
    • To encourage social distancing and loosen administrative requirements, seek waivers through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
    • To ensure compliance, prepare to submit a report summarizing the use of waivers on population outcomes by March 2021.
  3. H.R. 748: Allocates $150 billion to a coronavirus relief fund for state, local, and tribal governments.
  • To secure funding, monitor the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) for guidance on using funds for:
    • Coronavirus prevention and preparation
    • Tools to build health data infrastructure
    • COVID-19 Public Health Emergency expenses
    • Developing countermeasures and vaccines for coronavirus
    • Telehealth and rural health activities
       
  • To ensure HIPAA compliance when sharing protected patient health information, monitor the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) for guidance.

For more information

For specific issues your agency has, or if you have other questions, please contact us. We’re here to help. 

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CYSHCN programs have new care coordination standards―how does your agency measure up?

On October 15, 2020, the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) released new care coordination standards for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN) programs. The National Care Coordination Standards supplement the National Standards for Systems of Care, helping to ensure that children and youth with special health care needs receive the high-quality care coordination needed to address their specific health conditions.

The standards also set requirements for screening, identification, and assessment, a comprehensive shared plan of care, coordinated team-based communication, development of child and family empowerment skills, a well-trained care coordination workforce, and smooth care transitions. 

What do the standards mean for CYSHCN programs

The National Care Coordination Standards are more than guidelines for CYSHCN programs; aligning with the standards can lead to operational efficiencies, greater program capacity, and improved health outcomes. The standards can serve as a lens for continuous improvement, highlighting where programs can make changes that reduce the burden on care coordinators and program administrators.

However, striving to meet the standards can be challenging for many programs—as the standards develop and evolve over time, many programs struggle to keep up with the work required to update processes and retrain staff. Assessing a CYSHCN program’s processes and procedures takes time and resources that many state agencies do not have available. Despite the challenge, when state agencies are the most strapped is often when making change is the most needed. A shrinking public health workforce and growing population of CYSHCN means smooth processes are essential. To take steps towards National Care Coordination Standards alignment, BerryDunn recommends the following approach: 

A proven methodology for national standards alignment

There are many ways you can align with the standards. Here are three areas to focus on that can help you guide your agency to successful alignment. 

  1. Know your program
    It can be easy for processes to deteriorate over time. Process mapping is an effective way to shed light on current work flows and begin to determine holes in the processes. Conducting fact-finding sessions to map out exactly how your program functions can help pinpoint areas of strength―and areas where there is room for improvement.
  2. Compare to the national standards
    Identify the gaps with a cross-walk of your program’s current procedures with the National Care Coordination Standards. We assess your alignment through a gap analysis of the process, highlighting how your program lines up with the new standards.
  3. Adopt the changes and reap the benefits
    Process redesign can help implement the standards, and even small adjustments to processes can lead to better outcomes. Additionally, you can deploy proven change management methodologies programs that ease staff into new processes to produce real results.

Meeting national standards doesn’t have to be complicated. Our team partners with state public health agencies, helping to meet best practices without adding additional burden to program staff. We can help you take the moving pieces and complex tasks and funnel them into a streamlined process that gives your state’s children and youth the best care coordination. 

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Using process redesign to align with new CYSHCN standards

Revolutionizing the way information is stored and received, blockchain is one of the most influential technologies of the past decade. Mostly known for its success with the digital payment system, Bitcoin, blockchain also has potential to transform the public sector, and further, the way citizens interact with government. Many states are considering this potential, but are stuck asking the most basic question: How can the public sector implement blockchain? The first step is to understand exactly what blockchain really is.

Blockchain—What is it?
At the highest level, blockchain is termed a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT): data within a blockchain is not controlled by a single, centralized entity, but rather, is held by millions of systems simultaneously. This “chain” of systems, or DLT, not only decentralizes data, but also ensures it is incorruptible, as each “block” of data in the DLT connects using highly advanced encryption technology. Further, you can share each “block” without exposing the entirety of the blockchain’s data, enabling data sharing without compromising sensitive information. Blockchain’s opportunity lies in the core of its model, as being able to securely share records (containing sensitive information such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, property deeds, professional licenses, etc.), could connect different government services and create more efficient processes.

States across the nation are intrigued by the potential of blockchain, but unsure of just how to implement it successfully. Illinois, through the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, has been a leader in exploring blockchain’s possibilities in government. Here is some of their first-hand insight and advice.

Blockchain in Government—Illinois’ Perspective
Sunil Thomas, Cluster CIO, State of Illinois, assisted in the creation of the Illinois Blockchain Initiative in 2016, and is now a leader in testing and implementing blockchain technology across state services. BerryDunn connected with Sunil in August 2018, and he provided unique advice for other states considering a blockchain initiative.

Specifically, Sunil broke down the processes the Initiative used to advance the technology within the state, and shared three key pieces of advice for successful blockchain implementation:

  1. Host a statewide education campaign for blockchain to ensure all state leaders, including legislators, are equipped with a clear understanding of blockchain technology and its place in government. This education campaign may include extensive research into blockchain technology. Illinois, for instance, began their initiative by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) from vendors within the blockchain market. Additionally, Illinois collaborated with a local start-up that specializes in blockchain in order to gain subject matter expertise into blockchain development. 
  2. Initiate organized pilot projects to guide the direction of blockchain in the state and select what use cases should go through the full implementation process. At first, you should use blockchain projects to complement current state services. This ensures continuation of services, and allows for comprehensive transition time. Additionally, states should ask the questions: Why shouldn’t this service be delivered using a traditional solution?, and further, Why do we specifically need blockchain for this solution?, before each pilot. This will help you leverage the right services, with the greatest potential, as pilot blockchain projects.
  3. Create a statewide roadmap for blockchain to build an ecosystem that supports the technology. This “Blockchain Roadmap” should highlight a navigation plan for both state and federal regulations, and ensure that blockchain procurement strategies are understood. The roadmap can include a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to determine a return on investment (ROI) for specific services considered for blockchain leverage. Overall, the roadmap will act as a guide throughout the entirety of the blockchain initiative, and will ensure the state’s vision for blockchain is achievable.

These key pieces of advice can provide a foundation for state’s looking to leverage blockchain to improve services; although each state should tailor blockchain technology to its specific needs. The Illinois Blockchain Initiative’s experience clearly demonstrates there is a way to navigate blockchain successfully in the public sector, and shows that the technology truly can assist in the transformation of government services moving forward.

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Blockchain in government: Advice from leaders at the Illinois Blockchain Initiative

Modernization means different things to different people—especially in the context of state government. For some, it is the cause of a messy chain reaction that ends (at best) in frustration and inefficiency. For others, it is the beneficial effect of a thoughtful and well-planned series of steps. The difference lies in the approach to transition - and states will soon discover this as they begin using the new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS), a case management information system that helps them provide citizens with customized child welfare services.

The benefits of CCWIS are numerous and impressive, raising the bar for child welfare and providing opportunities to advance through innovative technology that promotes interoperability, flexibility, improved management, mobility, and integration. However, taking advantage of these benefits will also present challenges. Gone are the days of the cookie-cutter, “one-size-fits-all” approach. Here are five facts to consider as you transition toward an effective modernization.

  1. There are advantages and challenges to buying a system versus building a system internally. CCWIS transition may involve either purchasing a complete commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product that suits the state, or constructing a new system internally with the implementation of a few purchased modules. To decide which option is best, first assess your current systems and staff needs. Specifically, consider executing a cost-benefit analysis of options, taking into account internal resource capabilities, feasibility, flexibility, and time. This analysis will provide valuable data that help you assess the current environment and identify functional gaps. Equipped with this information, you should be ready to decide whether to invest in a COTS product, or an internally-built system that supports the state’s vision and complies with new CCWIS regulations.
     
  2. Employ a modular approach to upgrading current systems or building new systems. The Children’s Bureau—an office of the Administration for Children & Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—defines “modularity” as the breaking down of complex functions into separate, manageable, and independent components. Using this modular approach, CCWIS will feature components that function independently, simplifying future upgrades or procurements because they can be completed on singular modules rather than the entire system. Modular systems create flexibility, and enable you to break down complex functions such as “Assessment and Intake,” “Case Management,” and “Claims and Payment” into modules during CCWIS transition. This facilitates the development of a sustainable system that is customized to the unique needs of your state, and easily allows for future augmentation.
     
  3. Use Organizational Change Management (OCM) techniques to mitigate stakeholder resistance to change. People are notoriously resistant to change. This is especially true during a disruptive project that impacts day-to-day operations—such as building a new or transitional CCWIS system. Having a comprehensive OCM plan in place before your CCWIS implementation can help ensure that you assign an effective project sponsor, develop thorough project communications, and enact strong training methods. A clear OCM strategy should help mitigate employee resistance to change and can also support your organization in reaching CCWIS goals, due to early buy-in from stakeholders who are key to the project’s success.
     
  4. Data governance policies can help ensure you standardize mandatory data sharing. For example, the Children’s Bureau notes that a Title IV-E agency with a CCWIS must support collaboration, interoperability, and data sharing by exchanging data with Child Support Systems?Title IV-D, Child Abuse/Neglect Systems, Medicaid Management Information Systems (MMIS), and many others as described by the Children’s Bureau.

    Security is a concern due to the large amount of data sharing involved with CCWIS systems. Specifically, if a Title IV-E agency with a CCWIS does not implement foundational data security measures across all jurisdictions, data could become vulnerable, rendering the system non-compliant. However, a data governance framework with standardized policies in place can protect data and surrounding processes.
     
  5. Continuously refer to federal regulations and resources. With the change of systems comes changes in federal regulations. Fortunately, the Children’s Bureau provides guidance and toolkits to assist you in the planning, development, and implementation of CCWIS. Particularly useful documents include the “Child Welfare Policy Manual,” “Data Sharing for Courts and Child Welfare Agencies Toolkit,” and the “CCWIS Final Rule”. A comprehensive list of federal regulations and resources is located on the Children’s Bureau website.

    Additionally, the Children’s Bureau will assign an analyst to each state who can provide direction and counsel during the CCWIS transition. Continual use of these resources will help you reduce confusion, avoid obstacles, and ultimately achieve an efficient modernization program.

Modernization doesn’t have to be messy. Learn more about how OCM and data governance can benefit your agency or organization.

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Five things to keep in mind during your CCWIS transition

Read this if you are a not-for-profit organization. 

Due to the impacts of COVID-19, on June 3, 2020, FASB issued an Accounting Standards Update (ASU) that granted a one-year effective date delay for NFPs to adopt the new revenue recognition standards (Topic 606). The ASU permitted NFPs that had not yet applied the revenue recognition standard to do so for annual reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2019. Many NFP’s choose to take advantage of this delay. 

However, the clock is ticking on FASB’s revenue recognition changes, as most NFP’s will have to adopt the revenue recognition changes shortly. With that in mind – let’s revisit Topic 606 and what it could mean for your organization. 

The overarching goal of the changes to revenue recognition is to converge disparate standards across industries, all while making the information more useful to users. The core principle of the standard is that “the organization should recognize revenue to depict the transfer of goods or service in an amount that reflects the payment for which the organization expects to be entitled for those goods and services.” 

A five-step process and a simplified approach 

To achieve that core principle, your organization will need to apply a five-step model to some of your revenues streams:

  1. Identify the contract(s) with a customer
  2. Identify the separate performance obligations
  3. Determine the transaction price
  4. Allocate the transaction price to the separate performance obligations
  5. Recognize revenue when or as a performance obligation is satisfied

While the process can be broken down into five simple steps, the task of reviewing revenue streams and specific contracts can be quite daunting in implementation.

Additional disclosures needed

Whether your organization is currently implementing, or soon will, you will want to make sure you understand the extensive disclosures required under the standards. Annual disclosures include the following:

  • Qualitative information about how economic factors affect the nature, amount, timing, and uncertainty of revenue and cash flow
  • Opening and closing balances of contract assets, contract liabilities, and receivables from contracts with customers
  • Descriptions of performance obligations

We are here to help

We recognize the difficult task ahead for our clients in analyzing their multiple contract vehicles and revenue streams in implementing the new standards. To help our clients through the process, we are offering revenue standard workshops. This workshop can be tailored to your needs, with an in-depth meeting to review the standard, consider your significant revenue streams, and a walkthrough the five-step process. We will leave you with an easy to use template for analyzing future revenue streams along with recommendations for your current revenue recognition system and process. 

Don’t wait until the financial year has come to a close to review your processes and systems in place, we are available now to work with you to prepare for the new standard. Contact Chris Mouradian or Sarah Belliveau to find out how you can join the list of organizations getting ahead of the new standard.

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Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) revenue recognition changes: What it means for NFPs

Read this if you are at a state Medicaid agency.

In early March 2021, the Biden administration passed the American Rescue Plan of 2021 (H.R.1319) with the primary goal of providing emergency supplemental funding for the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Importantly, in addition to vaccines, unemployment, and other critical developments, the plan provided a number of Medicaid opportunities for states that expand eligibility and coverage, including the following:

  • Funding increases—a new incentive to expand Medicaid eligibility through a two-year, 5% increase in the state’s base Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).
  • Coverage—the option to extend Medicaid coverage for women up to 12 months postpartum and with full Medicaid benefits.
  • System transformation—a one-year, time-limited FMAP increase of 7.35% for states to make improvements and rate increases to Medicaid home-and-community-based services (HCBS).
  • Waiver opportunities—a new incentive (enhanced FMAP for five years through bundled payments) for state Medicaid programs’ mobile crisis intervention services for individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis via a state plan amendment (SPA) or 1115 waiver demonstration.

What’s next?

It seems likely that the American Rescue Plan’s Medicaid provisions signal upcoming changes and opportunities for healthcare transformation for state Medicaid programs. The administration has consistently articulated a desire to “strengthen Medicaid” and while additional legislative actions are likely coming, there are also legislative limitations that may limit or curtail the type of broad reform we’ve seen in the past. As a result, it’s likely that the vehicle the administration will use to disseminate healthcare transformation in Medicaid are administrative actions such as executive orders, regulations, and administrative rule-making through the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS). This is likely to result in opportunities in two areas: waivers and the funding incentives to adopt new policies.

Waivers

The best tool the administration has is also one of its oldest: demonstration waivers. As noted above, the American Rescue Plan of 2021 includes the option for states to take advantage of waivers (as well as SPAs) to exercise new flexibilities. Unlike the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which was rolled out nationally, it’s likely the administration will seek out volunteer states that are innovative and willing to collaborate. The result will be more experimentation, more tailoring of policy, and a more gradual—even organic—approach to transformation.

In the short term for state Medicaid agencies this will mean a rebalancing of pending waivers and guidance. Prior policy priorities like work requirements and aggregate enrollment caps may be revised through the regulatory process in coming months or years. It is anticipated that CMS will execute a vision with a renewed focus on expanding services or coverage, much like those seen with the opportunities already presented under the American Rescue Plan.

Funding

Budget is a consistent challenge states have faced over the past year resulting largely from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with recent aid to states and local governments there is likely to be uncertainty for the immediate future. The American Rescue Plan, like the ACA before it, finds mechanisms and incentives to raise the FMAP for states and potentially ease the state’s portion of Medicaid funding, particularly in the short term. Fitting with the theme of states as active partners, going forward there will likely be opportunities to maintain some type of increase to the FMAP. Beyond direct funding, opportunities like the recent CMS guidance on social determinants of heath, value-based payments, and models like the Community Health Access and Rural Transformation (CHART) hint at a continued focus on payment reform. States looking to lower costs and/or increase the quality of care will have ample opportunities to undertake projects in these areas.

State considerations

Regardless of next steps, states should expect both compliance needs and opportunities. States should begin to consider strategy, resources, and their priorities now. This process begins with knowing your agency’s strengths and potential limitations. Once states set their policy priorities and are ready to get underway with the business of transformation, time and resource constraints will likely be common barriers. Having a mature, flexible, and capable project management office, the right subject matter knowledge, and prequalified vendor lists to assist with Medicaid transformation can go a long way towards addressing time and resource constraints—making state Medicaid agencies agile in their response to the unique opportunities in the coming years.

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What's past is prologue: How the American Rescue Plan shows us what's next for Medicaid 

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