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

11.15.21

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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BerryDunn experts and consultants

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.

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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.

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Cyberattack preparation: A basics refresher

Read this if you are interested in grant compliance in healthcare. 

This is a companion article to the podcast, Mitigating the compliance and revenue integrity risk of grant funded healthcare programs.

The BerryDunn Healthcare Practice Group boasts professionals who have expertise all across the spectrum of healthcare, including regulatory, revenue, integrity, general compliance, and risk management issues. This article covers the very specific arena of grant compliance affecting many of BerryDunn’s healthcare, not-for-profit, and government clients.

After starting as a newly minted MBA financial analyst with an academic medical center in Northern New England, I (Markes) worked my way into the world of grants and contracts supported by my interest in federal regulations and the non-clinical revenue streams. Fascinated to navigate through waters where it seemed no one was the expert, or really had the time or patience to figure things out, I worked to stand up a grant office in finance on the hospital side, separate from the medical school which was the usual repository for grant funding. We moved this direction because hospital leadership realized grant funding was tipping toward the clinical setting and was less focused on bench or clinical research. Put another way, less NIH and more CDC, HRSA, and CMS.

BerryDunn Senior Manager Regina Alexander advises, “wherever there is complexity, there is compliance risk.” Whether from a federal agency like HHS, HRSA, NIH, or CDC, a state Medicaid program, foundation, or private source, grants always come with requirements, typically very specific requirements. Because the dollars are being ‘given’, those requirements for how the funds are used may be much more restrictive than loans.

Like other areas of regulatory compliance, it is reasonable to assume that grant programs often have compliance gaps that go unnoticed. For many of our clients, both in healthcare and not-for-profit, and in the government space, grant revenue has become a significant source of funding. Any kind of healthcare delivery organization, including academic medical centers, federally qualified health centers, community hospitals, behavioral health service organizations, home health providers, visiting nurse associations, and others can end up with significant portions of their income for the year being sourced by federal grants.

Grant compliance categories

We all can’t be experts in every domain of regulatory compliance, and grant compliance has a lot of breadth. Thankfully, at BerryDunn, we have a team of grant experts who work collaboratively across practice groups. When I was working on setting up the grant office and establishing a proprietary clinical FTE reporting process and system earlier in my career, I would have greatly benefited from the perspectives of other experts at the table.

When we think about grant compliance, four categories are helpful to keep in mind:

  1. Restricted funding
  2. Single audit
  3. Indirect rate
  4. Time and effort

Restricted funding

Firstly, and most universally understood and applied is that grant monies are, pretty much by definition, restricted. Aside from very specific and rare instances of monies being granted to beneficiaries who have no responsibility, all grant funding is awarded with the expectation that the funds will be expended in a specific way. 

Any funder, from the federal government to your local community organization like the Lions Club or the VFW, will likely require individuals and entities awarded a grant must promise to use the funds only for the purpose laid out in the award and proposal. Compliance with grant terms typically includes following the requested reporting requirements of that funder as well. Though this category may sound obvious, it's actually pretty far-reaching, as it usually affects sub-recipients (those entities who are partnered with the direct recipient to accomplish the grant purpose). For example, where the money goes after the initial awardee receives it, or rules about who can do the work, what type of organization, how you choose a vendor, etc.—all sorts of categories.

It should be noted that many of these grant award requirements are not dissimilar from work we already do in the healthcare compliance space to assist our clients in avoiding anti-kickback statutes and Stark risks. This is because grant compliance is grounded in the same basic concepts—no favoritism, no bribes or shady deals, and avoiding fraud, waste, and abuse. Especially if you're spending federal monies, you need to prove that you choose the vendor based on verifiable best practices, and consideration was afforded to organizations owned by women, veterans, and minorities.

Single audit 

The second category, Single Audit, is applicable to all federal funding of $750,000 or more annually. My colleague from BerryDunn’s Not-for-Profit practice group, Katie Balukas, explains: 

"The federal Single Audit Act is a requirement for entities to undergo an independent financial and compliance audit when the entity has expended over $750,000 in federal awards. These audits are conducted following guidance issued through the Governmental Auditing Standards and the United States Office of Management and Budgets' Uniform Guidance. The main focus of the compliance audit is to assess the entity's compliance with the requirements set forth by the federal agency that administered the grant funds. That includes, but is not limited to determining if the funds were utilized for allowable costs and activities and expanded within the proper grant period and that the reporting and performance objectives were met."

It is important to note that adequate, appropriately scaled internal resources are essential for any organization receiving grants and even more so with larger grants. Though the phrase has been overused, it really does “take a village”. Grant management isn't something an organization should do on the side, assigning grant accounting to someone who already has a full-time role, but unfortunately this is common and also unfortunate because under resourcing tends to lead to compliance concerns, as well as just plain old poor funding management. 

Indirect rate

Speaking of funding, the third type of grant compliance is very focused on a component of the grant world that really has a life of its own: The indirect rate. Though there is an accounting definition of ‘indirect’, the way it is defined regarding grant funding is pretty specific, and there is an entire body of work organizations undertake to get a federally approved indirect rate.

There's an awful lot to think about with the indirect rate. On the one hand, you could say it's pretty simple. For example, a lot of foundation funders and even some federal funders will offer you a 5% or 10% indirect rate without any need to make a calculation. That's because they know that if you take time to do the math, you'll come up with a number much higher than 5% or 10%. When it comes to federal grants and healthcare services organizations, the indirect rate is dependent on how an organization measures costs. For hospitals, of course, the method of measurement is driven by the Medicare cost report, and that's where we would do the fancy math to derive the indirect rate. But the reality is far from simple or straightforward. 

Time and effort

The fourth and final area of grant compliance, time and effort, is also the one I'm actually most passionate about and is probably the most minimized, or at the very least, misapplied. 

In one way, “time & effort” is exactly what it sounds like. Much of granted dollars, especially from the federal government, get appropriately spent on program staff. The challenge is to match time and effort to those dollars, but that isn't as clear as it sounds, because the standard way of measuring staff time is usually in a payroll system of some sort, which can't prove how time was spent.

Most payroll systems can be programmed to account for FTE (full-time equivalent) allocations; however, there is often a breakdown between theory and practice. Putting allocations into payroll, usually done without employee interaction, may show how an employee “should” spend their time, but it is really no guarantee that that's actually how they're spending their time.

So how does the organization typically go about assuring that? Now, I don't want to speak for everyone, but let's just say I happen to know that there's a place for two or three (or maybe 10,000) that basically put allocations into payroll, and then, unfortunately, often well after the fact and/or more than once, send that allocation to the employee to sign off on without really any option to disagree, or even to modify. We all know that is not compliant…but in the organization's defense, there really haven't been very good alternatives to that kind of woeful and frustrating process, at least none that have been widely shared or understood.

As often is the case in the compliance world, rules are not followed because there is no perceived risk, but that is not a winning strategy.

Though many people involved in grant management do not have any experience or even knowledge of time and effort violations meeting with any consequences, organization interest and grant compliance have more implications than just preventing front page news. What I find in the conversations with organizations, both large and small, is that loose time and effort management costs the organization in two major ways. 

Firstly, it is inefficient to scramble around at the close of each federal grant to fix time and effort allocations. The extra time spent by grant staff, project coordinators, managers, and the finance team to sort things out because they didn't get them right the first time is the worst kind of inefficient—poor use of time with an equally poor outcome. 

Secondly, loose time and effort is costly in direct salary dollars. Most grant staff are not dedicated to one project, so we need to consider the value of their other work. Whether that is on other grants or, for example, seeing patients in the clinic as many principal investigators in healthcare do, having inaccurate or fluctuating understandings of their ability costs the organization directly in wasted salary dollars or indirectly as the opportunity cost of those providers (or other roles in other organizations). 

Digging in and fixing these issues is the work I really enjoy. It's relatively simple to build a compliant model, whether that requires very little payroll redo and is just a simple recurring attestation process in built in Excel, or more complex integrated models with triggered attestations in PDF format in a database that manages the overall FTE of principal investigators. It might even drive the available clinical provider time. It can all be done. We just need to know what the goal is. 

Working in this space so rewarding, because like so much of compliance, it's about doing something better—not just being compliant—but setting organizations up to better meet their goals and fulfill their mission.

The compliance or accounting professional might still ask, “But why aren’t payroll allocations sufficient for meeting Uniform Guidance?” The truth is, when UG came into effect and superseded the A-110, 122, 133, and others, the bar was effectively lowered. Historically, organizations abiding by the old OMB circulars had to make an attestation at least twice a year, which doesn’t really seem helpful, as who can accurately allocate their time from 5 or 6 months ago? So UG did away with the timeframe reference, relying on the idea that the payroll allocations and distributions would be all that would be needed, and in the absence of those, a monthly ‘look back’ by professional staff would be in order.

I say all this, because as a result, the interpretation of ‘payroll allocations’ then becomes the standard and we have forgotten about the other elements spoken of in the regulation. Remember, for anyone salaried (the vast majority of physicians and most of the higher level grant personnel), the ‘payroll allocation’ doesn’t pass muster. It is a static allocation that has no mooring in actual activity. This is why UG calls for monthly “current and reasonable estimates” of time and effort.

So what can organizations do in response? They need to seek a solution, a process, and a method that will both pass audit muster, as well as help the organization properly manage their resources. Almost every organization manages their productivity and finances on a regular basis: monthly! That’s why the same standard should apply to grant time and effort management. It's much more reasonable to ask you how you spent your effort this month, asking you to make a reasonable estimate of your time allocations to the different efforts you worked on.

So to summarize, the four key areas of grant compliance are (1) grants are restricted funding, (2) single audit requirement for federal funding over $750,000 annually, (3) the indirect rate and related agreement, and (4) time and effort.

Of course, I would be remiss to not point out that undergirding all this is the organization’s approach to policy. Any organization that considers grant funding a regular piece of their annual income needs to have dedicated grant management policies, covering all of the above topics, with particular focus on those arenas that are unique to the world of federal funding, and being mindful to follow or otherwise update for changes in processes and/or regulations.

Final takeaways: 

  • First, what grant focused infrastructure do you have in place? If you are subject to a single audit, there should be dedicated administrative grant staff. And I don’t mean the programmatic people actually working on the grant, but people outside the grant funding—also why you have an indirect rate. 
  • Second, how are you handling time and effort? If the process relies on any long after-the-fact attestations or payroll-generated reporting, it is unlikely to be truly following the spirit…or the letter…of Uniform Guidance. 
  • Third, review your policies regarding grants. You may not actually have policies focused on grant activities, leaving them under ‘general finance’. That isn’t sufficient to cover federal funding requirements. Many have grant policies in place, but are they actually being followed through the lifecycle of your grant programs? 
  • Lastly, the grant world is a whole ball game unto itself. BerryDunn has some great resources internally to offer assistance in all phases of grant management and administration. 
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Mitigating risk of grant funded healthcare programs

When we meet with hospital boards to review the results of their audit, we are most often asked to share what we are seeing in the industry—and how their hospital compares with others in our client base. As we (hopefully) emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to see where we are as an industry after two challenging years. In reviewing our own benchmarking data, and reading this very comprehensive CFO Outlook Survey by BDO, it reinforced that these are challenging times indeed. 

The pressures of top line sustainability, cost containment, and recruitment and retention of talent are very real. And while healthcare providers are seasoned to the continual challenges and opportunities, the difference going forward, post-pandemic, will be what this looks like for rural providers without the influx of stimulus funds and beyond the initial surge of postponed surgeries. Based on the BDO survey, 69% of healthcare organizations surveyed expect an increase in profitability. Is your organization prepared to take the steps to make it happen? What is your financial resilience outlook?

You can read the survey here. If you would like to discuss further, please contact our Hospital Consulting team. We’re here to help.
 

Article
Healthcare survey: A comprehensive look at the industry

Read this if you work in finance or accounting or rely on financial reporting information.

Does your financial close process provide the information you need to make educated business decisions? 

Timely reporting of financial results is key to stakeholder decision making. As a result of market and regulatory obligations, companies and organizations are confronted with increasingly strict guidelines for the delivery of timely, accurate reports. Enormous amounts of information on transactions must be processed in a limited timeframe. This requires a great deal of effort on the part of your accounting and finance teams. 

The typical financial close process can be broken down into the following segments:

While this workflow seems straightforward enough, the financial close is not a single flat process, but the combination of many interrelated and often codependent processes—each with its own stages. The closing and reporting process is complex, and involves many different data suppliers and dependencies. Think your billing department, accounts payable, cash receipt, procurement, and more. All of these areas are likely to have data inputs that go into your financial close.
 

It often ends up looking like this when you consider each task:


 
To make the situation more challenging, as companies and organizations grow, the closing process can become more onerous and take longer to complete. Tasks in the financial close process are often added to an existing process—a process that may be more reactionary and based in historical practice, and may not have been well thought-out or planned for the current environment. Adding these tasks and increasing data inputs and outputs adds additional pressure to an incredibly important, but often forgotten task: analysis.

The majority of finance departments spend the bulk of their time on the financial close itself. Unfortunately, this can lead to delays, uncovering mistakes well after the fact, and reports lagging behind current business operations. The later the analysis is performed and the reports are distributed, the less useful they become for decision making. 

Financial close optimization

The good news? There is a strategy to optimize your financial close process, called financial close optimization, or fast closing. Fast closing is the periodic and structured closing and reporting process, in which all knowledge about the financial facts is collected and distributed to stakeholders more quickly.

There is an emerging trend for more frequent financial reporting, which allows companies and organizations to be more nimble and responsive to financial results, especially when facing an unprecedented crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. Optimizing the financial close process allows for quicker reporting of business results to give stakeholders a more timely financial picture.

We understand the scarcity of human and financial resources continues to prove challenging to financial teams. Creating a culture of continuous improvement is a challenging task for almost any finance team—but given the benefits of a fast closing and the increased costs of a longer close, is this something that can be ignored any longer?

Look out for our next article on tips and strategies to optimize your financial close, which can lead to:

  • Freeing up resources to provide finance teams more time for a deeper analysis of operating performance and other strategic objectives
  • Providing more accurate and timely reporting
  • Improving the organization’s audit readiness 
  • Lessening the need for traditional routine tasks 
  • Increasing focus on clients, patients, and customers by spending more time looking ahead to possible opportunities. 

If you have any questions on how to improve your financial close, please contact us. We’re here to help.

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Financial close: Increasing complexity calls for improving processes  

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.

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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.

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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.

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PERM success for Medicaid agencies through system implementations