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

09.17.20

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

Another National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) fall conference is in the books. As usual, the sessions were excellent. And this year we had the luxury of being able to attend from the comfort of our homes. For BerryDunn’s consulting group, that enabled us to “send” a broader team to conference. On the flip side, it also meant we were not able to greet and meet our community in person. 

Matt Salo, the NAMD Executive Director, defined the underlying themes to the conference as Flexibility, Innovation, and Resilience. If one were to just look at the full agenda, it would be hard to tell that this was a virtual conference. The session schedule and opening reception looked very much like a traditional NAMD conference, although there were not the usual breaks with the ice cream jubilee and ballroom number assignments. Otherwise, it was business as usual. 

In checking in with State Medicaid Director attendees, Monday’s meetings went well and they appreciated coming together. State leadership across the country is working straight-out right now—seven days a week. It kind of reminds me of when I became a parent: I thought I knew how to handle sleep deprivation, and then I had a newborn, and realized the important work of parenting isn’t on a time clock, which is much like the work Medicaid agencies are dedicated to. The directors and their support staff’s commitment to serving members and tax payers in their respective states is inspiring, and we are privileged to work alongside them. 

I appreciated a subtle but deep reminder from Matt and the NAMD President Beth Kidder for us: remember our “true North.” Why are we here? What is our purpose as leaders and vendors in the Medicaid community? The work we do matters. We can improve lives. We can save lives. The members in Medicaid programs are the center of all we do. Here are some of the other highlights I absorbed during the conference. 

Plenary sessions

In Tuesday’s plenary, panelists shared their primary lessons and reflections on the year, including: 

  • Pace―we need a balance because the pandemic does not have a clear beginning or end. Pandemics do not simply blow over like a hurricane; it’s hard to tell the beginning, middle, and end. 
  • Steadiness in chaos: velocity and stability―leaders need to make timely decisions while also being an anchor for their teams. 
  • Prioritization―not everything needs an immediate response. We need to be deliberate about what we do. 
  • Roadmaps―we can still use the tools we created map out where we want to go. 

The panel also shared how telehealth, transparency, teamwork, focus, and reflecting on “whole lives” in policy making assisted them in navigating their teams and providing the best services possible. 

Keynote―health equity 

Dayna Bowen Matthew provided a solid argument on how Medicaid can be key to achieving true health equity in America. She discussed the four “Ps” that can make this possible: Population, Position, Payer, and Persuader. She used the COVID-19 pandemic as her example of how it hit the vulnerable population first, and how we could have learned from it. 

Instead, it is being unleashed on the broader population. The work must begin with us, expand to our teams, policies we can control, and then policies that need a collaborative approach to change and implement. If you attended the conference and have access but missed this talk, I highly recommend listening to it as she covered a lot of very pertinent material. 

Member perspectives 

Sprinkled through the entire conference were videos of Medicaid members’ perspectives. I appreciate the tradition of bringing the human element of Medicaid’s impact into the conference, as it reminds us of our purpose. The perspectives also underscore another important theme of Matt’s: “Medicaid is a program about people, not statistics.” Examples of stories we heard include how someone went from 28 years of incarceration due to an armed robbery conviction to graduating from a university and now working with people; a hockey coach’s accident that paralyzed him from the neck down; a homeless mother gaining security and stability; a foster parent with a son having a rare brittle bone disease and a Native American parent with health access issues. 

Economy 

There were a couple of sessions related the economy, and generally, the presenters thought the biggest impact to Medicaid is yet to come. They said that there is typically a lag between events and member enrollments and the surge is still coming. They also agreed there was strong federal support from outside of CMS that kept their enrollment down. Membership growth is likely coming as state budgets are constrained. There are hopes for additional federal assistance within Medicaid, including an extended FMAP, and a similar package from last spring. The lack of certainty in regards to consistent funding is causing the states to spend a lot of energy developing back up plans. 

The panelists think the biggest economic challenges are yet to come is based upon three main reasons: the high chance of a recession, the impending (third wave) virus impact, and the social unrest exacerbated by the pandemic and systemic racism. These are merging perfect storms causing directors to look for stability and relief. I think the best summary I heard of how to proceed was open the book of “good ideas for bad times” that were not well thought of during good times. 

Public health emergency―COVID-19 pandemic 

As would be expected, COVID was a recurring topic in almost every session. There was a very interesting panel discussion on how best to “unwind” the changes made once we arrive in the post-pandemic era. There will be lots of challenges, and it is worth discussing these now, while we are still in the midst of responding to the immediate needs to address the virus. We are aware there will be systemic and program reversals. However, it will not be as simple as just doing a rollback. States will need to develop their strategies for redeterminations of their member populations and the timing will need to be coordinated. CMS will need to prepare guidance on expectations for unwinding. Programs will need to be reviewed and decisions prioritized on what needs to be changed. 

Prior to getting to post-pandemic era, states know they will need to plan for managing vaccine distribution, which will be one tool to help bring the curve down. According to former senior officials from the Trump and Obama administrations, the worst pandemic phase is coming this winter. However, there is “light at the end of the tunnel” because of optimism on a vaccine and other tools. We know more in this upcoming wave than the first wave in March. According to these officials, the sciences cannot get us through without a human element. And the human element can save a lot of lives. 

As Scott Gottlieb, MD, former FDA Commissioner, said, “We just need to stop breathing on each other.” He was implying that we need to socially distance and wear masks, while we wait for the vaccine come around and be distributed. The challenge is, according to Andy Slavitt, Former Acting Administrator for CMS, that the vaccine will not be available to the majority of the population for two to three months, and by then, if humans do not continue to change behavior, the spread could go to 30-40% of the population. They predict the pandemic will be at its worst point when the vaccine is made available. 

Seema Verma, the CMS Administrator, said the PHE has shown that we have the ability to work faster. She wants to ensure we heed the lessons of the pandemic, and in particular the experiences with the spread and deaths in the nursing homes. She feels that the issues in the nursing facilities cannot be fixed at the federal level. She sees CMS’s role is to encourage innovation at the state level, while the federal government hold states accountable to costs and positive outcomes and quality. 

Other concerns panelists raised regarding the pandemic are the long-term and downstream ripple effects of responding to the pandemic. For example: 

  • States know their members have delayed, deferred, and simply foregone healthcare over these past several months. This will create a surge in treatment at a later date, causing increased demand to an already fatigued provider community.
  • The reduced health of the general population resulting from not receiving the right care now and delaying care will further harm the well-being of the population. 
  • Our education system has gone mostly online, adversely impacting students’ ability to learn. 
  • The overall mental health of our population is at risk—the pandemic has changed all of us, and we will learn to what extent it is harmed us over the next several years. 

Looking ahead―there is hope

Several of the panels spent time discussing what our future might look like. It was encouraging to hear how there is a vision for long-term care delivery changes, meeting behavioral health needs, emergency and pandemic preparedness approaches, and addressing workforce challenges and healthcare inequalities. When asked to name one or two words that will represent where we are in five years, the panelists said: 

  • Lead and Succeed (#leadandsucceed) 
  • Survive and Thrive (#surviveandthrive) 
  • Even Better Together (#evenbettertogether)

We are in this today, and we are together, keeping the eye on our “true North”. Doing so will help us remain together and make us stronger in the future. The key is that we remain together. The conference showed that even though we could not be together in the same geographic place, our minds, attention, and spirit are aligned. We experienced the spirit of NAMD from our homes. 

We know that the future holds opportunities for us to be physically together in the future. We missed being in DC this year, and are very hopeful we will see you next year. That will be icing on the cake, which we will savor and not take for granted. Until then, I am confident we will maintain our integrity and focus on our purpose. 
 

Article
NAMD 2020 reflections: Together towards the future

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

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?

Article
MESC 2018 reflections–Portland, Oregon

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!

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Reflections on MESC 2017

Read this if you are at a state Medicaid agency.

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

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

What’s next?

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

Waivers

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

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

Funding

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

State considerations

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

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

Read this if you are a State Medicaid Director, State Medicaid Chief Information Officer, State Medicaid Project Manager, or State Procurement Officer—or if you work on a State Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) certification or modernization efforts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Outcomes and APD considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coordinating initiatives across state HHS: Questions to ask

Read this if you are a State Medicaid Director, State Medicaid Chief Information Officer, State Medicaid Project Manager, or State Procurement Officer—or if you work on a State Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) certification or modernization efforts.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scaling project outcomes