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MESC 2018 reflections–Portland, Oregon

08.21.18

Do we now have the puzzle pieces to build the future?

As I head home from a fabulous week at the 2018 Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC), I am reflecting on my biggest takeaways. Do we have the information we need to effectively move into the next 12 months of work in the Medicaid space? My initial reaction is YES!

The content of the sessions, the opportunities to interact with states, vendors, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Systems (CMS) representatives were all rich and rewarding.

The underlying message from Julie Boughn, the CMS Director Data and Systems Group? This is “The Year of Data Quality” and the focus will be migrating to outcomes-based projects. CMS indicated they would like their regional representatives and state agencies to be aware of their top three priorities, focus on those, and be able to exhibit measurable progress in the next year.

Here are three ways states can focus their efforts in "The Year of Quality":

  1. Fix identified areas that have issues (every state has T-MSIS areas they can correct)
  2. Maintain data quality over time, especially through system enhancements
  3. Be aware of CMS plans to use and share T-MSIS data

CMS’ overall goals and vision for improvement include:

  • Creating faster delivery of well-functioning capabilities
  • Improving user experience for all users: produce timely, accurate, and complete data
  • Better monitoring and reporting on business process outcomes

I interpret Julie Boughn’s message and direction to be: keep our efforts realistic, focus on tangible results/outcomes, and realize that CMS is approachable.

While we work on outcomes, there may be some additional changes coming to the certification approach—even beyond the most recent updates from CMS. I think there is general understanding that the work we do in the Medicaid space is iterative, and we will always be improving and changing to adapt to the shifting environment and needs of our beneficiaries, stakeholders, and administration.

As I commuted on Portland’s MAX rail line between my hotel, the conference venue, and other events, I remembered Portland’s 2010 conference (then known as the MMIS Conference) and how the topics covered then and now are evidence of just how much we have evolved.

First, we were the MMIS Conference—now there is a much broader view of the Medicaid arena and our attention is on the Medicaid Enterprise—which includes the MMIS.

Second, in 2010 the nation was coming out of the Great Recession and there was a significant amount of energy spent on implementing initiatives on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). With it came a host of initiatives: meaningful use, as it related to incentives for providers to utilize electronic health records, states were subsequently updating their Medicaid IT and information exchange plans, and ICD-10 implementation readiness was a hot topic.

Fast forward to 2018, where session topics included modularity, re-use, health outcomes, coordinated care, data quality measures, programs to improve and enhance care, the opioid epidemic, long-term care, care delivery systems, payment, and certification measures. The general focus has migrated to include areas far beyond technology and the MMIS.

As we move into the next 12 months of work in the Medicaid space and look forward to gathering in Chicago for the 2019 MESC, the answer is YES, we have a clear direction and vision for moving forward. And we know things will continue to change in coming years. Are you ready to reassemble the pieces to fit and build the evolving picture of Medicaid?

Read this if you are a member of a State Medicaid Agency’s leadership team.

Monday’s NESCSO-hosted conversation was a breath of fresh air in our COVID-19 work-from-home experience. Seeing familiar faces presenting from their home offices reminded me that, yes, we are truly all in this together—working remotely, and focused on how best to foster an efficient and effective Medicaid program for our state clients and members. Over the past several years I have written a “Reflections” blog, summarizing the week-long MESC event while flying home. Today, I am posting my reflections on the first forum NESCSO sponsored in lieu of their August conference that was cancelled this year due to the global pandemic. Following are my major takeaways.

The main speakers were Karen Shields, Deputy Director from the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, and Julie Boughn, Director, Data Systems Group also for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services. There were several other guests that joined in this two-hour forum, some from the Data Systems Group, and some from the states.

Crisis as a learning tool

Karen Shields reinforced that we will be better and stronger as a result of the crisis that faces us, and encourages us to use the current crisis as a learning tool. She stressed the importance of how we are leveraging our creativity and innovation to keep moving forward. She said to start with the end in mind, be a team player, and keep in mind these three important points of focus for CMS:

  1. Share what works, share what doesn’t. Prioritize.
  2. Systems development needs to be agile. Partnership is critical. States needs to be “elbow deep” with others. Everyone is allowed to speak. 
  3. Re-usability is key! Push back on those who say we cannot reuse.

During the Q&A session, Karen discussed how to maintain consistency by turning to action and using lessons learned. Resist the urge to “fall back.” Let’s keep moving forward. She underscored how they will continue the all-state calls as there are lots of topics and conversations needed to explore deficits of need. 

Support systems and policies

Julie Boughn opened by stressing what an important layer of support systems provide policies. She said COVID is not a system issue—the systems supporting the approach to address the virus are working and a big part of contributing to helping alleviate the issues the pandemic presents. She noted an appropriate quip that “Without systems, policies are just interesting ideas on pieces of paper.”

She underscored that healthcare and all that goes with supporting it is never static. The Medicaid arena is in a world of increasing change, requiring the supporting systems to adapt to make payments correctly and facilitate the provision of benefits to the right people. CMS has been focused on, and continues to bring our focus to outcomes, especially in the IT investments being made. Promote sharing and re-use of those investments.

During the Q&A, Julie reinforced the priority on outcomes and spoke to outcomes-based certification (OBC). There was a question on “What happens to modularity in the context of OBC?” She said that they are completely compatible and naturally modular, and to think about how a house can be built but not be completely done. Build the house in chunks of work, and know what you’re achieving with each “chunk”. Outcomes are behind everything we do.

Engage with your federal partners

In the next presentation, CMS modeled a dialogue that demonstrated how states can engage with their federal partners. CMS wants to continue changing the relationship they have with states. They also reminded the audience of what CMS is looking for; as Ed Dolly, the Director for the Division of State Systems within the Data and Systems Group said during the conversation, “Do you understand the problem trying to be solved?” Define your final outcome, and understand that incremental change drives value. In addition to communicating the problem, focus on speed of delivery (timeliness), and engage in back and forth exchange on what best measures can be used, as well as the abilities to capture the measures to report progress. The bottom line?  “When in doubt, reach out!”

The remainder of the forum featured representatives from the State System Technology Advisory Group (S-TAG), Private Sector Technology Group (PSTG), and Human Services Information Technology IT Advisory Group (HSITAG). They discussed a variety of IT topics.

Technology outlook

The S-TAG had representation from an impressive list of states—West Virginia, Washington, Wyoming, Vermont, and Massachusetts. They spoke to how they envision their technology response to changes in policy now and in the next 12-18 months. There was too much to present here, and I recommend reviewing the recording once NESCSO posts it. Initiatives included: Provider enrollment, electronic asset verification, electronic visit verification, integrated eligibility systems, modularity implementations, migration to the cloud, pharmacy systems, system integrator, certification, strategic planning, electronic data interchange upgrades, payment reform, road map activities, case management, care management, T-MSIS, and HITECH.

HSITAG spoke about the view across the health and human services spectrum—Where are we today? Where will we be tomorrow? COVID has tested our IT infrastructure and policy. Is there an ability to quickly scale up? Weaknesses in interoperability became exposed and while it seemed Medicaid was spared in the headlines, the need to modernize is now much more apparent. Modularity showed its value in more timely implementations. There is concern over an upcoming increase in the Medicaid population. Are we equipped for the short term?

For the long-run, where we will be “tomorrow” in the 12-18 month view, there will be a bigger dependency on the interrelations between all programs. Medicaid Enterprise Systems can and should look at whole systems, focusing on social determinants of health. Data and program integrity will be key, as the increased potential of fraud in the midst of challenging state budgets. We will need to respond quickly with limited resources.

Keep relationships strong

PSTG spoke of how when COVID hit, it caused them, like the rest of us, to modify their goals. They spoke about relationships and the importance of maintaining them with clients and colleagues, questions of productivity, what things that we have learned will we carry into the post-pandemic era, will we remain flexible, and how will we “unwind” all the related changes that will not be carried forward. Looking forward, PSTG wants to support the growing of the outcomes-based culture, evolve the state self-assessment (currently an active workgroup), and how to be less prescriptive to allow for more flexibility on “how” vendors get to solutions.

I was grateful to be able to join this event, and hear that we are in this together—we will get through it and we will keep moving forward. I felt this was a good start to what I hope will be the first of many MESC 2020 forums. The session felt like it ended too quickly even though we covered a lot of ground. I am excited about the thought of hearing about new ideas, improving our understanding of upcoming changes CMS is sponsoring, and engaging in the innovative thought that will keep us moving toward a better tomorrow. Thanks to NESCSO for sponsoring this event and bringing us together.

Please contact our Medicaid Consulting team for more information on if you have any questions.

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MESC 2020: Where we are today and where we will be tomorrow

Phew! We did it—The Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC) 2019 is one for the books! And, it was a great one. Here is my perspective on objectives and themes that will guide our work for the year.

Monday 

My day started in the fog—I live on an island in Maine, take a boat to get into Portland, and taxi to the airport. Luckily, I got to Portland, and, ultimately Chicago, on time and ready to go. 

Public Sector Technology Group (PSTG) meeting

At the PSTG meetings, we reviewed activities from the previous year and did some planning for the coming year. Areas for consideration included:

  • Modernization Schedule
  • Module Definitions
  • Request for Proposal (RFP) Requirements
  • National Association of State Procurement Officers

Julie Boughn, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) Director, Data and Systems Group (DSG) introduced her new boss, Karen Shields, who is the Deputy Director for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (CMCS) within CMS. Karen shared her words of wisdom and encouragement with us, while Julie reminded us that being successful in our work is about the people. CMS also underscored the goal of speeding up delivery of service to the Medicaid program and asking ourselves: “What is the problem we are trying to resolve?” 

CMS’ “You be the State” officer workshop

Kudos to CMS for creating this open environment of knowledge sharing and gathering input.  Areas for discussion and input included:

  • APD Processes
  • Outcomes-Based Certification
  • Increasing and Enhancing Accountability

Tuesday
Opening Plenary

I was very touched by the Girls Inc. video describing the mission of Girls Inc. to inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold. With organizations like this, and our awareness and action, I am optimistic for the future. Thank you to NESCSO for including this in their opening program.

John Doerr, author of Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth and famed investor, shared his thoughts on how to create focus and efficiency in what we do. Julie’s interview with him was excellent, and I appreciated how John’s Objectives and Key Results (OKR) process prompted Julie to create objectives for what we are trying to do. The objectives Julie shared with us:

  • Improve the quality of our services for users and other stakeholders 
  • Ensure high-quality data is available to manage the program and improve policy making 
  • Improve procurement and delivery of Medicaid technology projects

Sessions

The sessions were well attended and although I can't detail each specific session I attended, I will note that I did enjoy using the app to guide me through the conference. NESCSO has uploaded the presentations. 

Auxiliary meetings

Whether formal or informal, meetings are one of the big values of the conference—relationships are key to everyone’s success, and meeting with attendees in one-on-one environments was incredibly productive. 

Poster session

The poster sessions were excellent. States are really into this event, and it is a great opportunity for the MESC community to engage with the states and see what is going on in the Medicaid Enterprise space.

Wednesday

Some memorable phrases heard in the sessions:

  • Knowledge is power only if you share it
  • We are in this together and want the same outcomes, so let’s share more
  • Two challenges to partnering projects—the two “P”s—are purchasing and personnel
  • Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good
  • Small steps matter
  • Sharing data is harder than it needs to be—keep in mind the reason for what you are doing

Our evening social event was another great opportunity to connect with the community at MESC and the view of Chicago was beautiful.

Julie Boughn challenged us to set a goal (objective) in the coming year, and, along with it, to target some key results in connection with that goal. Here are some of her conference reflections:

  • Awesome
    • Several State Program and Policy leaders participated at MESC—impressed with Medicaid Director presence and participation
    • Smaller scoped projects are delivering in meeting the desired improved speed of delivery and quality
    • Increased program-technology alignment
  • Not so awesome
    • Pending state-vendor divorces
    • Burden of checklists and State Self-Assessments (SS-As)—will have something to report next year
    • There are still some attempts at very large, multi-year replacement projects—there is going to be a lot of scrutiny on gaining outcomes. Cannot wait five years to change something.

OKRs and request for states and vendors

  • Objective: Improve the quality of services for our users and other stakeholders
    • Key Result (KR): Through test results and audits, all States and CMS can state with precision, the overall accuracy of Medicaid eligibility systems.
    • KR: 100% of State electronic visit verification (EVV) systems are certified and producing annual performance data.
    • KR: 100% of States have used CMS-required testing guidance to produce testing results and evidence for their eligibility systems.
  • Objective: Ensure high-quality data is available to manage the program and improve policy making
    • KR: Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS) data is of sufficient quality that it is used to inform at least one key national Medicaid policy decision that all states have implemented.
    • KR:  Eliminate at least two state reporting requirements because T-MSIS data can be used instead.
    • KR: At least five states have used national or regional T-MSIS data to inform their own program oversite and/or policy-making decisions.
  • Objective: Improve how Medicaid technology projects are procured and delivered
    • KR: Draft standard language for outcomes metrics for at least four Medicaid business areas.
    • KR:  Five states make use of the standard NASPO Medicaid procurement.
    • KR:  CMS reviews of RFPs and contracts using NASPO vehicle are completed within 10 business days.
    • KR:  Four states test using small incremental development phases for delivery of services.
  • Request: Within 30 days, states/vendors will identify at least one action to take to help us achieve at least one of the KRs within the next two years.

Last thoughts

There is a lot to digest, and I am energized to carry on. There are many follow-up tasks we all have on our list. Before we know it, we’ll be back at next year’s MESC and can check in on how we are doing with the action we have chosen to help meet CMS’s requirements. See you in Boston!

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MESC 2019―Reflections and Daily Recap

The MESC “B’more for healthcare innovation” is now behind us. This annual Medicaid conference is a great marker of time, and we remember each by location: St. Louis, Des Moines, Denver, Charleston… and now, Baltimore. The conference is not only a way to take stock of where the Medicaid industry stands. It is a time to connect with the state and vendor community, explore challenges and best-practice solutions, and drive innovation with our respective projects.

Having an opportunity to reflect on MESC over the last several years, I’ve discovered that taking stock of how much has changed (or not) is a valuable exercise. 

Changes at CMS

At the federal level, there is the departure of a long time contributor — Jessica Kahn — who is no longer with CMS. Her contributions and absence were marked in both the opening and closing plenary. We are grateful for her dedication and many contributions to the Medicaid space. In this time of change, we look forward to continuing our work with CMS leadership CMS to advance the mission of Medicaid.

Innovation and Collaboration

Many of the sessions this year were updates on modularity, system integration, and certification, and sessions on expanding or maturing innovative approaches to achieving our triple aim. While there did not seem to be any earth-shattering changes, calls for innovation and collaboration continue. This can be difficult to achieve during a time of anticipated change, but necessary, as states strive to realize improvements in their systems and operations.

Data-Driven Decisions

One of the dominating conference themes was a reiteration of the need to access data from broad sources within and outside Medicaid, and to leverage that data for policy and operation-related solutions and decision-making. Key words like “interoperability” and “sustainability” could be heard echoing through the halls. There is no one-size-fits-all solution on how to break out of stove pipes of data, but some new technologies may be viable tools to meet the challenge. 

Strategic Planning for the Future

States remain focused on refining and following their strategic plans and roadmaps in a time of uncertainty — with regard to potential changes coming from the federal level. The closing plenary suggested that states be prepared for “local leadership” opportunities, which further underscores the need for states to continue to prepare themselves and their systems to facilitate changes to their programs.

Maintaining Perspective

As I leave Baltimore to return home and help care for my 88-year-old father, and as I see others who are in clear need of healthcare help, I am reminded that the work we do and the problems we are tackling are important on so many levels. It is a cornerstone of the well-being of our health system and our fellow citizens. Our team will continue to focus our efforts with this perspective in mind, drawing from the lessons, discussions, and best practices shared at this year’s MESC.

Here’s to a year of good health — may you successfully carry out the mission of Medicaid in your state. See you in 2018 in Portland, Oregon!

Article
Reflections on MESC 2017