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How Medicaid programs are preparing for the operational challenges of the PHE unwinding

By:

Darrah is a Senior Consultant in our Medicaid Practice Group. She is responsible for creating materials and working with the subject matter experts (SMEs) to help ensure content accuracy for the design and development of job skills development (JSD) training for operational and system designs.

Darrah Ruiz
06.08.22

Read this if you are at a state Medicaid agency.

The Covid-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) placed US state and territory Medicaid programs on the front line of reorganizing what healthcare looks like for millions of Medicaid enrollees. Each Medicaid program shifted automation and manual procedures in order to comply with and benefit from the increased federal funding in early 2020. With the PHE winding down, every Medicaid program must look at how to return to regular operations and unwind, or undo, the continuous coverage requirement temporarily put in place by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS). BerryDunn has collaborated with Medicaid programs to identify best practices and consider new opportunities to implement rollback methods in an effort to lower risk during the unwinding period and beyond. 

New learning programs considered

Administrators who have been assessing their staff and operational readiness to support the expected influx of renewals, policy changes, and staffing changes are considering launching learning programs ahead of the unwinding efforts. Using this time to engage with staff has uncovered the need to redeploy fundamental learning programs to prepare for the anticipated high volume of two-years of renewals. Administrators have also begun to engage with community leaders and health plan organizations in ways that provide coordinated and complete communication to beneficiaries. Many programs have looked at expanding benefits within the guidelines of CMS, such as extending post-partum coverage to a full 12 months and increasing reasonable compatibility to a larger percentage, recognizing the economy has evolved since 2020.

Other outreach efforts

During the pandemic, many beneficiaries moved without notifying the Medicaid program of the address change. Proactive Medicaid programs are working directly with health programs and medical facilities to ensure the most updated addresses are captured, and are using public transportation advertisements, online website reminders, and email notifications to encourage beneficiaries to update addresses.

In other locations with a high rate of unemployment in specific industries, Medicaid programs are working with identified outreach partners like unions and industry associations to communicate messaging of Medicaid benefits. Thousands of employees may have lost full-time employment during the pandemic and have returned to work with reduced hours and less benefits. As a sign of changing times, some programs are employing social media campaigns to connect with existing and new enrollees. 

Medicaid programs across the states and territories are finding creative ways to reach impacted communities. Program administrators are organizing staff and systems to be well positioned to undo the effects of the temporary policies. The dismantling of the two-plus years of PHE is expected to be performed within a 12-month period. As administrators eagerly anticipate the announcement of an extension or the pending PHE unwinding start date, one thing is certain: US states and territories are preparing to support an extensive population of Medicaid beneficiaries post pandemic.

BerryDunn is partnering with many states and territories to help ensure a successful unwind of temporary services and return to normal operations. If you would like to discuss how BerryDunn can support your needs, contact the Medicaid consulting team.
 

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What the C-Suite should know about CECL and change management

Read this if you are at a financial institution. 

Some institutions are managing CECL implementation as a significant enterprise project, while others have assigned it to just one or two people. While these approaches may yield technical compliance, leadership may find they fail to realize any strategic benefits. In this article, Dan Vogt, Principal in BerryDunn’s Management and IT Consulting Practice, and Susan Weber, Senior Manager and CECL expert in BerryDunn’s Financial Services Practice, outline key actions leaders can take now to ensure CECL adoption success.  

Call it empathy, or just the need to take a break from the tactical and check in on the human experience, but on a recent call, I paused the typical readiness questions to ask, “How’s the mood around CECL adoption – what’s it been like getting others in the organization involved?” The three-word reply was simple, but powerful: “Kicking and screaming.”  

Earlier this year, by a vote of 5-2, the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) closed the door to any further delays to CECL adoption, citing an overarching need to unify the industry under one standard. FASB’s decision also mercifully ended the on-again off-again cycle that has characterized CECL preparation efforts since early 2020. One might think the decision would have resulted in relief. But with so much change in the world over the past few years, is it any wonder institutions are instead feeling change-saturated?  

Organizational change

CECL has been heralded as the most significant change to bank accounting ever, replacing 40+ years of accounting and regulatory oversight practices. But the new standard does much more than that. Implementing CECL has an effect on everything from executive and board strategic discussions to interdepartmental workflows, systems, and controls. The introduction of new methods, data elements, and financial assets has helped usher in new software, processes, and responsibilities that directly affect the work of many people in the organization. CECL isn’t just accounting—it’s organizational change. 

Change management

Change management best practices often focus on leading from optimism—typically leadership and an executive sponsor talk about opportunities and the business reasons for change. Some examples of what this might sound like as it relates to CECL might include, by converting to lifetime loss expectations, the institution will be better prepared to weather economic downturns; or, by evolving data and modeling precision, an institution’s understanding and measure of credit risk is enhanced, resulting in more strategic growth, pricing, and risk management. 

But leading from optimism is sometimes hard to do because it isn’t always motivating—especially when the change is mandated rather than chosen.  

Perhaps a more judiciously used tactic is to focus on the risk, or potential penalty, of not changing. In the case of CECL, examples might include, your external auditor not being able to sign-off on your financials (or significant delays in doing so), regulatory criticism, inefficient/ineffective processes, control issues, tired and frustrated staff. These examples expose the institution to all kinds of key risks: compliance, operational, strategic, and reputational, among them.

CECL success and change management

With so much riding on CECL implementation and adoption going well, some organizations may be at heightened risk simply because the effort is being compartmentalized—isolated within a department, or assigned to only one or two people. How effectively leadership connects CECL implementation with tenets of change management, how quickly they understand, then together embrace, promote, and facilitate the related changes affecting people and their work, may prove to be the key factor in achieving success beyond compliance.  

One important step leaders can take is to perform an impact assessment to understand who in the organization is being affected by the transition to CECL, and how. An example of this is below. Identifying the departments and functions that will need to be changed or updated with CECL adoption might expose critical overlaps and reveal important new or enhanced collaborations. Adding in the number of people represented by each group gives leaders insight into the extent of the impact across the institution. By better understanding how these different groups are affected, leaders can work together to more effectively prioritize, identify and remove roadblocks, and support peoples’ efforts longer term.           

 
No matter where your institution is currently in its CECL implementation journey, it is not too late to course-correct. Leadership—unified in priority, message, and understanding—can achieve the type of success that produces efficient sustainable practices, and increases employee resilience and engagement.

For more information, visit the CECL page on our website. If you would like specific answers to questions about your CECL implementation, please visit our Ask the Advisor page to submit your questions. For more tips on documenting your CECL adoption, stay tuned for our next article in the series, revisit past articles, or tune in to our CECL Radio podcast. You can also follow Susan Weber on LinkedIn.

Article
Implementing CECL: Kicking and screaming

Read this if you are at a state Medicaid agency. 

As the end of the Public Health Emergency becomes more likely, much attention has been paid to the looming coverage cliff as state Medicaid agencies re-determine eligibility for their programs. The impacts can be mitigated in part by planning and taking proactive steps.

In the unsettling initial days of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) temporarily increased federal matching funds for state Medicaid programs. In exchange, states would suspend redeterminations of enrollees’ eligibility for the duration of the PHE. 

For Medicaid, states were in effect prohibited from disenrolling an individual from Medicaid programs. The result, according to CMS data, is 14.8 million more people were enrolled in Medicaid as of late 2021 than before the pandemic, reaching a total of nearly 79 million Medicaid enrollees.  According to one estimate, the end of the PHE could bring a decline in the number of Medicaid enrollees by as many as 15 million. This number includes an estimated 8.7 million adults and 5.9 million children. 

Local and state government eligibility staff will need to review the submitted documents and determine if these members qualify for continued Medicaid coverage. The potential exists for members to lose coverage, due to factors such as having moved, not realizing their circumstances have otherwise changed, or being unable or unaware to return the required paperwork within appropriate timeframes.

State Medicaid agencies strive to maintain an equitable program while remaining trusted stewards of public funds. With a large base of beneficiaries, this change is expected to impact the community and the healthcare market, with broad implications for public health. Similarly, the federal requirement for continuous health coverage has also helped state Medicaid agencies by easing the strain on organizations during pandemic-related disruptions. 

For these reasons state Medicaid agencies may search for routes to limit the loss of coverage. This can be accomplished through finding policy levers to retain members, establishing routes to alternative forms of insurance, and mitigating the risk of coverage loss for members. 

Mitigating the likelihood of becoming uninsured

State Medicaid agencies can reduce the risk that members lose their coverage and become uninsured through a number of steps. 

  • Designing comprehensive, multi-pronged, and targeted communication strategies. States can help Medicaid members understand the requirements and timelines required to maintain their coverage.
  • Updating systems to automate and reduce administrative burden. Maximizing ex parte renewals through the use of existing data that is stored in integrated systems.
  • Making key decisions early. States can minimize coverage loss by carefully planning the unwinding process and their approach to resuming Medicaid eligibility renewals.
  • Coordinating with other forms of coverage. Confirm or design user-friendly pathways by which a member is transferred or referred to other alternatives like the Marketplace or CHIP.
  • Leveraging their health plans. Particularly when it comes to coordinating outreach and updating member information. Managed care plans are also able to refer members who are losing coverage to other qualified health plans.

Policy levers for retaining members

States may consider reviewing emergency state plan amendments and appendix k amendments completed during the PHE to determine what flexibilities are possible to continue under existing authorities. At the same time, states should consider what other policy options may help retain coverage for existing members- for example:

  • Adopt 12 months continuous eligibility. This can be done for children via a State Plan Amendment (SPA), for adults through an 1115 waiver, and for individuals enrolled in BHP (via BHP Blueprint revision) 
  • Establish 12 months of postpartum coverage. This can be done through several paths, including SPAs 
  • Review operational policy for efficiencies. For example, a State could consider modifying the frequency of periodic data matching 

Next steps

The US Department of Health and Human Service has previously indicated its intention to provide notification to states of the end of the PHE 60 days before its scheduled end. The PHE was renewed in April 2022, and as of this writing will last until mid-July, meaning enrollees could lose Medicaid coverage as soon as August 1. The enhanced FMAP and the Maintenance of Eligibility (MOE) requirements are in place until the end of the quarter in which the PHE ends. In the case of a July 2022 end date to the PHE, the enhanced FMAP would last through September 30, 2022. 

Regardless, Medicaid agencies will need to begin reviewing all enrollees’ eligibility, performing outreach, and designing system updates this summer. In terms of next steps, states should consider the following:

  • Evaluate your program and identify initiatives to prioritize in the coming year. Ask your CMS contact about the latest applicable guidance. 
  • Develop Advanced Planning Documents (APDs) to help fund technology needs for initiatives, along with training your SMA team and providers. 
  • Implement a communications management approach to engage stakeholders, and inform affected Medicaid members.
  • Marshal project management resources and develop a realistic and achievable roadmap to success.  
  • Explore agency contracting vehicles, cooperative contracts, and other procurements tools. 

We’re here to help. If you have more questions or want to have an in-depth conversation about your specific situation, please contact the Medicaid consulting team.

Article
Medicaid coverage gap: Tools and strategies for Medicaid agencies to help retain members

Read this if you have a cybersecurity program.

This week President Joe Biden warned Americans about intelligence that indicated Russia may be preparing to conduct cyberattacks on our private sector businesses and infrastructure as retaliation for sanctions applied to the Russian government (and the oligarchs) as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine. Though there is no specific threat at this time, President Biden’s warning has been an ongoing message since the invasion began. There is no need to panic, but this is a great time to re-visit your current security controls. Focusing on basic IT controls goes can make a big difference in the event of an attack, as hackers tend to go after the easy, low hanging fruit. 

  1. Access controls
    Review and understand how all access to your networks is obtained by on-site employees, remote employees, and vendors and guests. Make sure that users are maintaining strong passwords and that no user is connecting remotely to any of your systems without some form of multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA can come in the form of a token (in hand or built-in) or as one of those numerical codes you have delivered to your phone or email. Poor access controls are simply the difference between leaving your house unlocked versus locked when you leave to go somewhere. 
  2. Patching
    One of the most common audit findings we have to date and one of the biggest reasons behind successful attacks is related to unpatched systems. Software patches are issued by software providers to address vulnerabilities in systems that act as an unlocked door to a hacker, and allow hackers to leverage the vulnerability as a way to get into your systems. Ensuring your organization has a robust patch management program in place and that systems are up-to-date on needed patches is critical to your security operations. Think of an unpatched system like a car with a broken window—sure the door is locked, but any thief can reach through the broken window and unlock the car. 
  3. Logging 
    Account activity, network traffic, system changes—these are all things that can be easily logged and with the right tools, configured to alert you to suspicious activity. Logging that is done correctly can alert management to suspicious activity occurring on your network and notifies your security team to investigate the issue. Consider logging and alerting like your home’s security camera. It may alert you to the activity outside, but someone still needs to review the footage and react to it to mitigate the threat.  
  4. Test backups and more
    Making sure that your systems are successful backed up and kept separate from your production systems is a control we are all familiar with. Organizations should do more than just make sure their backups are performed nightly and maintained, but need to make sure that those data backups can be restored back to a useable state on a regular basis. More so than backups, we also often hear in the work we do that our client’s test only parts of their disaster recovery and failover plans—but have never tested a full-scale fail-over to their backup systems to determine if the failover would be successful in the event of an event or disaster. Organizations shouldn’t be scared to do a full-scale failover test, because when the time comes, you may not have the option to do a partial failover and just hope that it occurs successfully. Not testing your backups is like not test driving a car before you buy it. Sure it looks nice in the lot, but does it actually run? 
  5. Incident Management Plan 
    We often review Incident Management Plans as part of the work we do, and often note that the plans are outdated and contain incorrect information. This is an ideal time to make sure your plans are current and reflect changes that may have occurred, like your increasingly remote work force, or that systems have changed. An outdated Incident Management Plan is like being sick and trying to call your doctor for help only to find out your doctor has retired. 
  6. Training—phishing attacks
    Hackers’ most common approach to gain access to systems and deploy crippling ransomware attacks is through phishing campaigns via email. Phishing campaigns trick a user into either providing the hacker with credentials to log into systems or to download malware that could turn into ransomware through what appears to be legitimate business correspondence. Training end-users on what to look for in verifying an email’s authenticity is critical and should be seen as an opportunity that benefits the entire organization. Testing users is also critical so management understands the current risk and what is needed for additional training. Security teams should also have other supporting controls to help prevent phishing emails and detection tools in place in case a user does fall for an email. Not training your employees on security is like not coaching your little league team on how to play baseball and then being surprised you didn’t win the game because no one knew what to do. 

In the current environment, information security is an asset to any organization and needs to be supported so that you can protect your organization from cyberattacks of all kinds. While we can never guarantee that having controls in place will prevent an attack from occurring, they make it a lot more challenging for the hacker. One more analogy, and then I’m done, I promise. Basic IT controls are like speedbumps in a neighborhood. While they keep most people from speeding (and if you hit them too fast they do a number on your car), you can still get over them with enough motivation. 

If you have questions about your cybersecurity controls, or would like more information, please contact our IT security experts. We’re here to help.

Article
Cyberattack preparation: A basics refresher

Read this if you are at a public health agency.

As public health workforce challenges worsen through retirements, burnout, and added need for public health workers highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, funding levels for public health remain increased for the time being. This provides opportunities for states to leverage federal programs and funding streams to help ensure a strong and capable public health workforce to meet the needs of all communities. An important consideration for states is the level of cultural competence among their public health workforce.

Cultural competence: Definition and benefits

Cultural competence refers to the capacity to function effectively, both as an individual and an organization, in relation to community members’ cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs. It allows public health professionals to provide more effective public health services to individuals and communities with cultures different from their own—through awareness, respect, and willingness to learn about cultural differences. The necessity of cultural competence in public health is especially timely due to new and existing disparities that have been highlighted by COVID-19 outcomes and the ripple effects of the pandemic.

Benefits of a culturally competent public health workforce include greater public trust in the public health system, more equitable and effective public health services, improved understanding of existing barriers and community health status, and the potential to reduce disparities and improve both healthcare access and health outcomes in historically marginalized communities.

As many states face significant workforce gaps and challenges in recruiting, training, and retaining staff, it is important to leverage best practices and key indicators of success to inform a sustainable and effective approach for workforce development. States may benefit from assessing gaps in cultural competence and related skills, and by identifying specific cultural competency areas and abilities they aim to achieve in the workforce. A strategic approach is necessary for maximizing the sustainability and long-term benefit of federal funding opportunities, such as those for public health workforce development in rural areas. 

Strategies and best practices for developing a culturally competent public health workforce 

There are many steps you can take toward building cultural competence in your agency. Some of them include:

  • Develop and implement a periodic assessment of workforce cultural competence, and training to measure improvement and incorporate up-to-date best practices
  • Recruit diverse staff to reflect the culture and demographics of communities, including the provision of linguistic support
  • Create and improve pipeline training programs by collaborating with local colleges, universities, and schools of public health and identifying existing gaps in the workforce and in public health educational opportunities 
  • Support inter-professional education and teams for community-based interventions, to foster collaboration between public health and healthcare professionals in the community to better meet needs 

Important first steps to improve and foster cultural competence in the public health workforce include setting goals related to building community partnerships and what those partnerships will achieve. 

Other steps for building cultural competence 

Additionally, collecting diversity data and demographic characteristics of the public health workforce, measuring and evaluating performance of the public health workforce and public health services, and reflecting community diversity within the workforce are necessary for developing a workforce that supports community cohesion and trust of community members. These steps can help you assess where you can strengthen services and how communities can be better reflected in the public health services they receive. Effective communication and language access are also critical steps to improve and foster cultural competence in the public health workforce.

BerryDunn can provide state public health and human services agencies with strategic policy and programmatic guidance and management support to maximize the benefits of federal programs to facilitate public health workforce development. 

If you have any questions about your specific situation, or would like more information, please contact our Public Health Consulting team. We’re here to help.

Article
Developing a culturally competent public health workforce

Is your Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agency struggling with Maintenance and Enhancement (M&E) vendor management? Here are some approaches to help improve your situation: 

  • Product Management Office (PdMO): Product management can help you manage your WIC system by coordinating and planning releases with the M&E vendor, prioritizing enhancements, reviewing workflows, and providing overall vendor management.
  • Project Management Office (PMO): Project management can help with budgeting, resource management, risk management, and organization. 
  • A blend of product and project management is a great partnership that can relieve some of the responsibilities of WIC agency staff and allows a third party to provide support in all areas of product and project management.

Whether you are an independent WIC State Agency (SA) or a multi-state consortium (MSC), having a PMO and/or PdMO can help alleviate some of the challenges facing WIC today. While an MSC may present significant cost savings, managing an M&E contract for multiple states can be overwhelming. Independent state agencies (SAs) may not have multiple states to coordinate with, but having the staff resources for vendor facilitation and implementing federal changes can be challenging. A PMO/PdMO can aid in improving business and technology outcomes for SAs and MSCs by bringing a level of coordination and consistency that otherwise might not happen. 

As federal changes grow in complexity, evidenced by the many changes to WIC stemming from the American Rescue Plan Act, coupled with workforce challenges in government, the importance of a PMO/PdMO has never been greater. Here are six ways a PMO/PdMO can help you:

  1. Facilitate the vendor relationship
    A PMO/PdMO not only holds the vendor accountable but also takes some of the workload off the SA by facilitating meetings, providing meeting notes, and tracking action items and decisions.
  2. Manage centrally located data
    A PMO/PdMO keeps all documents and data in a centralized location, fostering a collaborative environment and ease of access to needed information. A centralized location of data allows SAs to be on the same page for consistency, quality control, and to support the state’s need for clean, reliable information that is current and accurate.
  3. Track and mitigate risks 
    Effective risk management requires a substantial commitment of time and resources. The PMO/PdMO identifies, tracks, and assesses the severity of risks and suggests approaches to manage those risks. Some PMO/PdMOs assess all risks based on a severity index to help clients determine which risks need immediate action and which need monitoring.
  4.  Assist in the creation of Implementation Advanced Planning Document Updates (IAPDUs) 
    Creating and implementing an IAPDU can be time-consuming, confusing, and requires attention to detail. A PMO/PdMO alleviates time and pressure on SAs by helping to ensure that an IAPDU or funding request clearly outlines a plan of action to accomplish the activities necessary to reach an organization’s goal. PMO/PdMOs can draft IAPDUs to determine the need, feasibility, and projected costs and benefits for service. 
  5. Provide an unbiased, third-party opinion 
    A PMO/PdMO will offer an unbiased, third-party opinion to help avoid misunderstanding and frustration, decision stalemates, inadequate solutions, and unpleasant relationships between WIC agencies and M&E vendors. 
  6. Provide the right combination of business and technical expertise
    Staffing challenges (exacerbated by COVID-19), difficulties finding expertise managing software change management for WIC, and a retiring workforce knowledgeable in WIC system implementation have in some cases left SAs without critical resources. Having the right combination of skills from a third party can resolve some of these challenges.

Independent SAs or MSCs would benefit from having a PMO/PdMO to help meet the challenges WIC agencies face today, whether it is an unplanned funding change or updates to the risk codes. With the help of a PMO/PdMO developing standard practices and methodologies, SAs and MSCs can deliver and implement high-quality services more consistently and efficiently. The role of the PMO/PdMO is far-reaching and positively impacts WIC by providing backbone support for WIC’s overarching goal, to “safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children who are at nutrition risk.”

If you have questions about PMOs or PdMOs and the impact they can have on your agency, please contact us. We're here to help.

Article
Product Management Office: Benefits for WIC state agencies

Read this if your State Medicaid Agency is planning Medicaid Enterprise System enhancements.

Are you a system integrator (SI) or a State Medicaid Agency (SMA) implementing or enhancing a Medicaid system or specific module? Have you considered how decisions made during design and implementation could impact the federal Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) reviews for SMAs?

The goal of PERM is to measure and report an unbiased estimate of the true improper payment rate for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Every state is reviewed once every three years using a sample that includes both fee for service (FFS) and managed care (MC) payments. A state assigned error rate is not the only consequence resulting from the PERM review; there are also financial implications.

Risk reduction from PERM review

Maintaining a focus on PERM review factors when making decisions during design and implementation can protect states by reducing the risk of:

  • Submitting change requests (CR) during implementation, which can result in additional cost and time
  • Implementing changes to existing Medicaid systems during maintenance and operations
  • Findings reported during certification efforts
  • Refunding federal dollars due to improperly paid claims
  • A reduction in federal match on all claims paid

It is also important to understand the benefits of a dedicated PERM team within the state organization that includes members from the system vendor and outside PERM experts. These benefits include providing states an additional level of security to help ensure a positive outcome to the federal PERM review, helping to protect federal funding.

Having a dedicated team will help ensure all decisions made during system updates and/or implementations are made while keeping focus on PERM requirements and the further impacts of PERM reviews, saving time and remaining compliant.

Plan ahead for best results

When planning for a new module or Medicaid system request for proposal (RFPs), consider PERM-related requirements to help ensure all PERM needs are met to prevent errors and repayment of federal funds. Including PERM requirements can also help your agency ensure federal compliance and successful PERM audits. Doing so will likely reduce the amount of time system integrators spend re-working earlier development decisions and help ensure claim payments are processed, and eligibility determinations are made in accordance with federal and state regulations.

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

Article
PERM success for Medicaid agencies through system implementations

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

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

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?

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

Read this if you support State Medicaid Program Integrity efforts.

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released updated guidance on how states should handle their Third Party Liability (TPL) claims and ensuring that all insurances pay prior to the State Medicaid Agency (SMA) paying any claims. Before we get into the updated guidance, let’s discuss the basics of TPL and what your SMA needs to know.

TPL Basics

There are several different types of healthcare liabilities:

  • Health insurers – Coordination of benefits and primary payers; this can be through group insurances or employer/member paid insurance.
  • Government programs – Public health programs, such as the Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening or the Vaccines for Children Program.
  • Other people or entities – Automobile insurance, product liability, or medical malpractice. The main thing to remember is that Medicaid will not pay if someone else is responsible.
  • Awards through courts or casualty/tort claims – This would be if a payment is made in a settlement, Medicaid can claim off of that award for Medicaid covered services that do not exceed what has already been paid out.

Again, the main thing to remember is Medicaid is the payer of last resort! There are few exceptions to this rule, including:

  • Indian Health Services (IHS), where Medicaid pays first and IHS covers the remaining services covered for this population.
  • Members who have Veterans Assistance (VA) coverage. Medicaid is the second payer to VA benefits except for in nursing homes and emergency treatment cases outside of VA facilities.

Agencies have data use agreements that describe how the data will be collected, transmitted, and used. But where does the data come from? 

  • Caseworkers can collect information directly from the member at the time of enrollment or re-enrollment.
  • Eligibility system(s) and the TPL vendor can access both state and federal data exchanges, which can then be shared with the Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS).
  • Medical, dental, vision, and pharmacy claims are a great source of data because this information comes from the provider who collects it from the member.
  • Data exchanges are also an important part of data gathering:
    • State Wage Information Collection Agencies (SWICA) is a state database that shows if a member or family member is employed allowing the state to inquire about additional coverage through the employers insurance.
    • Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) is related to members of current or former military service who have TriCare insurance coverage.
    • State Verification and Eligibility Systems (SVES) and the State Data Exchange (SDX) work together to verify tax information, employment, eligibility, etc.
      • These systems work for more than just TPL through verifying enrollment but TPL is a component. 
      • This is also where the state can reduce duplicate enrollments—having a member with enrollments in Medicaid in several states and reaping the benefits in each state.
  • Motor vehicle administration and worker’s compensation systems can verify if the claim was the result of an automobile accident or occurred on the job. Once verified in the system, an edit can be included to deny so the TPL vendor knows to go back and review the claim.
  • Payers and health plans share the information with each other and with Medicaid. This allows all payer to use the same database.

TPL checkpoints

Throughout the process of developing a claim, there are many opportunities to check TPL coverage. The member is a great source of information since who else knows more about a person, besides themselves. The member enrollment caseworker and the enrollment application can also provide a lot of information that comes directly from the member. Through Medicaid and CHIP work with the Managed Care Organizations (MCO), it is in the MCO’s best interest to ask a member about TPL coverage during each and every encounter with the member. However, it is important to remember that if TPL is involved, Medicaid is the payer of last resort; but for CHIP, if TPL is involved, typically there is no CHIP coverage. 

The TPL vendor, enrollment broker, and providers are also excellent resources for obtaining member information. The TPL vendor conducts data mining within claims to find external causes of conditions that suggest another person or entity is responsible for payment. When a member calls the enrollment broker to choose their MCO, this is an opportunity to ask the member about any TPL coverage. Finally, the providers can share valuable information that was received from the member.

Claims adjudication process

Up to this point, we have discussed the primary payer information, the accident indicator, and a work related indicator, but there are still a couple more steps in the process to discuss. Your SMA’s should set the edits within your MMIS so that the state can process payments correctly up front to reduce overpayments and the expense of recouping that money. The edits within the MMIS should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are in compliance with state policies (including state plans) and federal guidelines.

Some other areas that should be reviewed to check for TPL coverage is the member age and diagnosis codes. If the member is 65 years of age or older, Medicare should be considered as a source of coverage. Also, diagnosis codes can be an indicator of an automobile accident or injury on the job. Following each of these steps, can prevent the state from overpaying a claim or making a payment in error.

Potential TPL indicators in information received on a claim can vary. For example, CMS and dental codes use the same field names, while the uniform billing (UB) form has defined codes to identify the primary liability. 

CMS-1500     UB-04     Dental
Other Insurance Condition Code Other Insurance
Accident Date Occurrence Code Accident Date
Work Related Injury Diagnosis Code Work Related Injury
Diagnosis Codes Diagnosis Code

Data relationships

The relationship between data sources varies across programs. Medicaid feeds into and/or receives information from all data sources, including CHIP, MCOs, TPL vendor, data warehouse, federal databases, and state databases (such as department of motor vehicles and worker’s compensation). CHIP interacts with Medicaid, MCOs, TPL vendor, and the data warehouse. The TPL vendor exchanges information with Medicaid, CHIP, MCOs, data warehouse, and state databases. The MCOs have a relationship with Medicaid, CHIP, TPL vendor, and the data warehouse. Working together, these programs have access to all of the different data sources; however, sometimes the relationship is indirect and takes multiple steps to complete the transaction. This is why the sharing of data is so important!

TPL data sharing

Working together is the best way to ensure all entities have access to the same and as much information as possible. There typically needs to be a contract relationship between your SMA and all entities that send or receive data. It is a good idea for the SMA to have a data use agreement with each agency that defines how the data will be collected, transmitted, and used. The data can be transmitted in any way, as long as it is secure, and can be stored in the data warehouse which allows all entities that will use the data to have access to the same information.

MCO contracting

The MCO contract between the SMA or the CHIP Agency and the MCO requires the MCOs to conduct TPL activity. In addition, your state should consider including a finder’s keepers clause in their contract with the MCO, which allows the state to collect on overpayments that the MCO chooses not to collect. For example: the MCO can decide that it will cost more to recoup the overpayment than the money recouped so the MCO can choose not to pursue in which case the state can pursue. The state would keep all the money collected.

The contract between your SMA and TPL vendor should include the state and federal data searches as required by regulation. This contract should also include sharing of data with the MCOs that reduces the risk of duplicate expenses for the SMA and the MCOs.

TPL policy

It is key for your SMA to align all policies to both state and federal regulations but the more the policies are aligned across programs within your state, the better.

Many TPL policy references can provide all information regarding the federal regulations.

  • Title 42, Chapter IV, Subchapter C, Part 433 – State Fiscal Administration, Subpart D – Third-Party Liability
  • Medicaid Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) of 2018, Section 53102, Third Party Liability in Medicaid and CHIP
  • Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA)
  • Coordination of Benefits and Third Party Liability (COB/TPL) in Medicaid 2020 Handbook
    • This comprehensive resource includes all of the references as well as guidance for your SMA.
  • Medicaid.gov TPL 
    • Good resource for updated information in addition to resources and guidance for states.

Now that we have covered the basics of TPL, let’s review some of the updated guidance recently released by CMS.

TPL policy changes

Medicaid BBA of 2018

  • CMS updated the pay and chase guidelines and removed some of the requirements.
    • SMAs are no longer required to pay and chase pregnancy claims. These can now be rejected up front.
  • CMS updated medical support enforcement claims payment to extend the timely filing period.
    • The timely filing period was 30 days but has now been extended up to 100 days.

DRA of 2005

  • The updated regulations clarified that third-parties include:

    • Health insurance
    • Medicare
    • Employer sponsored health insurance
    • Settlements from liability insurer
    • Workers compensation
    • Long-term care insurance
    • State and federal programs unless specifically excluded by statute
  • The updated regulations also specified that health insurers should provide the SMA with eligibility data, honor assignment of right to payment, and refrain from procedural denial of Medicaid claims.

COB/TPL in Medicaid 2020 Handbook

  • CMS updated the guidelines to include the pay and chase requirement for Medical Support Enforcement and Preventive Pediatric Services.

On August 27, 2021, CMS released guidance directing SMAs to ensure their state plans are updated and in compliance with federal guidelines by December 31, 2021. 

You can learn more about the updated guidance here

MCO claims

  • MCO encounter claims need to be in the state’s data warehouse to ensure:
    • TPL services are tracked in the data warehouse
    • TPL and MCO paid claims can be differentiated
    • All services are reported within the warehouse

Next steps

There are several things you can do to help ensure your SMA is getting the most out of your TPL data. You can review the following:

  • Medicaid, CHIP, and MCO TPL policies
  • TPL vendor business processes and policies
  • MCO contracts for TPL language
  • TPL vendor contract
  • Claim edits in the MMIS

If you have any questions, please contact our Medicaid consulting team. We're here to help.

Article
Third Party Liability claims: What state Medicaid agencies need to know