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MESC 2021 reflections 

08.16.21

Read this if you are a State Medicaid Director, State Medicaid Chief Information Officer, State Medicaid Project Manager, or State Procurement Officer.

Hurray! The in-person Medicaid Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC) was successfully held! It was a wonderful and true reunion for all those who attended the conference in Boston this year. Hats off to MESC’s sponsoring organization, NESCSO, for holding a hybrid in-person/virtual event. Although there were some minor technological glitches at the start, MESC went very smoothly. The curriculum, good planning, and hard work prevailed and led to a very successful conference.

Before highlighting the session content and conference themes, I must mention what first occurred upon arrival: We were able to greet our colleagues, partners, and vendor teams. How wonderful it was to be together with some colleagues who I had not seen for over two years! We all had stories and pictures that video conferencing just can’t convey, and being able to share them, face-fo-face (and tear-to-tear), was the highlight for me. Who cried when Shivane Pratap and Laura Licata played cello and violin Bach pieces for us? That would be me. 

Our Medicaid Practice Group team was not able to get to our agendas until checking in with each other. The joy of seeing people, hugging people, shaking hands, or bumping elbows or fists underscored the value of being able to utilize all our senses when we meet with people—after all, we are in a people industry, and it was amazing to see the care we have for each other, and it was a reminder that that care is the foundation of what we strive to deliver to the Medicaid population each and every day through our work.

What an amazing 18 months we’ve been through—hearing that the Medicaid population is now over 80 million, and that it exceeds the Medicare population is hard to fathom, and this means that the Medicaid population is 25% of our overall population, and Medicaid and Medicare populations combined are half of our population. I think the growth in Medicaid of 10 million members in just a few years is a reflection of the pandemic and hardships our nation is currently enduring.

In the midst of the loss endured as COVID-19 waves continue to seep through this world, we have accomplished much. I’m not sure if these gains seem bigger because it’s been two years since we last gathered, the appreciation of being able to get anything accomplished other than respond to the pandemic, or maybe we really have hit our goals out of the ballpark (most likely a mixture of all three).

Significant achievements of the past two years

Items of significant accomplishment and change since our last MESC in-person conference include:

  • A new administration and CMS Senior Leadership, Deputy Administrator and Director, Daniel Tsai
  • System and policy changes to accommodate needs driven by COVID-19, the substance use epidemic, and other hardships
  • Continued modular implementations, piloting of Outcomes-Based Certification and a focus on the Medicaid problems we are trying to solve
  • Steady progress on Medicaid Enterprise Systems modernization
  • Human-centered design focus
  • States seem to be striving to be more proactive and set up project management offices to help them be more efficient (great to hear attitudes like Kentucky’s, “If you can measure it, you can improve it.”). Examining the root cause with good planning helps reduce “reacting”
  • Agency collaboration and improvements in interoperability as well as collaboration with our federal CMS partners
  • Improved tools and monitoring tools (how about Tennessee’s dashboard demo!)

Challenges ahead that were raised in sessions and conversations during MESC include:

  • Public health emergency “unwinding” – lots of rule changes, potential re-enrollment for up to 80 million members
  • Coverage and access – healthcare is at a tipping point, and the future is a connected healthcare system
  • Equity and patient access
  • Whole person care innovation, delivery system reform, putting patients at the center
  • Managing data and data exchanges
  • Focus on Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)—a progressive change

Inspiration to continue moving forward

Concepts of inspiration that I carry with me from this conference and will help me continue moving forward:

  • Many responses to the pandemic began organically with only a few, which grew to hundreds of thousands, showing us that a “few” (i.e., us) can lead to meaningful and impactful solutions.
  • Medicaid is about the people it’s serving, not the technology.
  • Everyone is born with creativity and the importance of curiosity as a form of listening
  • Collaboration is about peer respect—we need to understand what everyone is excellent at so we can count on them (thank you Michael Hendrix!)
  • Embrace change as a healthy way of being

We all know there is a lot going on right now and there is more to come—at work, in our lives, in our country, and on this planet. Our state partners need help as they are continually asked to do more (effectively) with less. States’ Medicaid members need help, and our state partners need help. Examining how we are structured, what tools and organizational and project management approaches we can leverage, and how we care for ourselves and our teams so we can be there for our citizens, will take us a long way towards a successful outcome. We are all in this together. Let’s dare to be bold, be creative, be innovative, be intentional—let’s lead the way to fulfil our vision and our mission!

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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. 
 

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NAMD 2020 reflections: Together towards the future

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

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?

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

As states transition to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) Outcomes-Based Certification (OBC), many jurisdictions are also implementing (or considering implementation of) an Integrated Eligibility System (IES). Federal certification for a standalone Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) comes with its own challenges, especially as states navigate the recent shift to OBC for Medicaid Eligibility and Enrollment (E&E) services. Certification in the context of an IES creates a whole new set of considerations for states, as Medicaid eligibility overlaps with that of benefit programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and others. We’ve identified the following areas for consideration in your own state's IES implementation: 

  • Modernizing MES 
    It's likely your state has considered the pros and cons of implementing an IES, since CMS' announcement of increased federal funds for states committed to building new and/or enhanced Medicaid systems. Determining whether an IES is the right solution is no small undertaking. From coordinating on user design to system security, development of an IES requires buy-in across a wider range of programs and stakeholders. Certification will look different from that of a standalone MES. For example, your state will not only need to ensure compliance with CMS' Minimum Acceptable Risk Standards for Exchanges (MARS-E), but also account for sensitive data, such as medical information, across program interfaces and integration. 

    BerryDunn recommends one of the first steps states take in the planning phase of their IES implementation is to identify how they will define their certification team. Federal certification itself does not yet reflect the level of integration states want to achieve with an IES, and will require as much subject matter expertise per program included in the IES as it requires an understanding of your state's targeted integration outcomes and desired overlap among programs.
  • Scale and scope of requirements
    Once your agency commits to designing an IES, the scope of its solution becomes much broader. With this comes a wider range of contract requirements. Requirements can be program-specific (e.g., relevant only to Medicaid) or program-agnostic (e.g., general technical, "look-and-feel", and security requirements that apply throughout the solution). Common requirements across certain programs (e.g., certain eligibility criteria) will also need to be determined. Requirements validation and the development of Requirements Traceability Matrixes (RTM) per program are critical parts of the development phase of an IES implementation.

    BerryDunn recommends a comprehensive mapping process of requirements to OBC and other federal certification criteria, to ensure system design is in compliance with federal guidance prior to entering go/no-go for system testing phases.
  • Outcomes as they apply across programs
    CMS' transition to OBC changed the way states define their Medicaid program outcomes. Under this new definition outcomes are the value-add, or the end result, a state wishes to achieve as the result of its Medicaid eligibility solution enhancements. In the context of an IES, Medicaid outcomes have to be considered in terms of their relation to other programs. For example, presumptive eligibility (PE) between SNAP and Medicaid and/or cross-program referrals might become more direct outcomes when there is an immediate data exchange between and among programs.

    BerryDunn recommends consideration of what you hope to achieve with your IES implementation. Is it simply an upgrade to an antiquated legacy system(s), or is the goal ultimately to improve data sharing and coordination across benefit programs? While certification documentation is submitted to individual federal agencies, cross-program outcomes can be worked into your contract requirements to ensure they are included in IES business rules and design.
  • Cost allocation
    In the planning phase of any Design, Development, and Implementation (DDI) project, states submit an Advance Planning Document (APD) to formally request Federal Financial Participation (FFP), pending certification review and approval. This APD process becomes more complex in an IES, as states need to account for FFP from federal programs in addition to CMS as well as develop a weighted cost allocation methodology to distribute shares equitably across benefit programs.

    BerryDunn recommends States utilize the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children & Families (ACF), Office of Child Support Enforcement's (OCSE) Cost Allocation Methodologies (CAM) Toolkit to inform your cost allocation model across benefit programs, as part of the APD development process
  • Timeline
    A traditional MES implementation timeline accounts for project stages such as configuration sessions, requirement mapping, design validation, testing, CMS' Operational Readiness Review (ORR), etc. The project schedule for an IES is dependent on additional factors and variables. Scheduling of federal certification reviews for OBC and/or other programs might be held up by project delays in another area of the implementation, and project teams must be agile enough to navigate such changes

    BerryDunn recommends development of a thoughtful, comprehensive project schedule allowing ample time for each project phase across programs. We also recommend states cultivate relationships with federal partners including, but not limited to, CMS, to communicate when a development delay is anticipated. Engaging federal partners throughout the DDI phases will be a critical part of your IES implementation.

In theory, an IES benefits stakeholders on both sides of the system. Caseworkers avoid duplication of efforts, reduce administrative costs, and ensure program integrity, while individuals and families on the receiving end of public benefit programs experience a more efficient, streamlined application process. In practice, the development of a comprehensive business rules, case management, and workflow system across human services programs can prove to be a heavy lift for states, including but not limited to considerations around certification to secure FFP. Planning for the implications of an IES implementation ahead of time will go a long way in preparing your agency and state for this comprehensive certification effort.
 
For further reading
Keep an eye out for the next blog in this series, highlighting certification guidelines across an IES implementation (for CMS and other Federal programs). You can read more on OBC here

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

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States transition to Outcomes-Based Certification: Considerations and recommendations

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.

You can listen to the companion podcast to this article, Organization development: Shortcuts for states to consider, here: 

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.

What organization development (OD) shortcuts can state Medicaid agencies consider when faced with competing priorities and challenges such as Medicaid modernization projects in flight, staffing shortages, and a retiring workforce?

The shortcuts include rapid development and understanding of the “why”. This requires the courage to challenge assumptions, especially around transparency, to allow for a consistent understanding of the needs, data, environment, and staff members’ role in impacting the health of the people served by a state’s Medicaid program. To rapidly gain an understanding of the “why”, state Medicaid agencies should:

  1. Accelerate the transparency of information and use of data in ways that lead to a collective understanding of the “why”. Accelerating a collective understanding of the why requires improved communication mechanisms. 
  2. Invest time to connect with staff. The insistence, persistence, and consistency of leaders to stay connected to their workforce will help keep the focus on the “why” and build a shared sense of connection and purpose among teams.
  3. Create the standard that planning involves all stakeholders (e.g., policy, operations, systems staff, etc.) and focus on building consensus and alignment throughout the organization. During planning, identify answers to the following questions: What are we trying to achieve, what are the outcomes, and what is the vision for what we are trying to do?
  4. Question any fragmentation. For example, if there is a hiring freeze, several staff are retiring, and demand is increasing, it is a good idea to think about how the organization manages people. Question boundaries related to your staff and the business processes they perform (e.g., some staff can only complete a portion of a business process because of a job classification). Look at ways to broaden the expectations of staff, eliminate unnecessary handoffs, and expect development. Leaders and teams work together to build a culture that is vision-driven, data-informed, and values-based.

What are some considerations when organizations are defining program outcomes and the “why” behind what they are doing? 

Keep in mind that designing system requirements is not the same as designing program outcomes. System requirements need to be able to deliver the outcomes and the information the organization needs. With something like a Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) modernization project, outcomes are what follow because of a successful project or series of projects. For example, a state Medicaid agency looking to improve access to care might develop an outcome focused on enabling the timely and accurate screening and revalidation for Medicaid providers. 

Next, keeping with the improving access to care example, state Medicaid agencies should define and communicate the roles technology and staff play in helping achieve the desired outcome and continue communicating and helping staff understand the “why”. In Medicaid we impact people’s lives, and that makes it easy to find the heart. Helping staff connect their own motivation and find meaning in achieving an outcome is key to help ensure project success and realize desired outcomes. 

Program outcomes represents one of the six major categories related to organizational health: 

  1. Leadership
  2. Strategy
  3. Workforce
  4. Operations and process improvement 
  5. Person-centered service
  6. Program outcomes

Focusing on these six key areas during the analysis, planning, development, and integration will help organizations improve performance, increase their impact, and achieve program outcomes. Reach out to the BerryDunn’s Medicaid and Organization Development consulting team for more information about how organization develop can help your Medicaid agency.
 

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Outcomes and organization development, part II

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. 

The companion podcast to this article, Organization development: Preparing for Medicaid Enterprise Systems (MES) modernization, can be found in our virtual library.  


What is organization development (OD)? 

The purpose of OD is to improve organizational performance and outcomes. OD focuses on improving an organization’s capability through the alignment of strategy, structure, people, rewards, systems, metrics, and management processes.  

OD is a science-backed, interdisciplinary field rooted in psychology, culture, innovation, social sciences, quality management, project management, adult learning, human resource management, change management, organization behavior, and research analysis and design, among others.  

OD typically starts with a clear sense of mission, vision, and values that answers the question “what we are trying to be?” OD develops the culture and behaviors that reflect the organizational values.  

OD facilitates the transformation of the workplace culture to become strategic, meaning: vision-driven, values-based, and goals-aligned. This may include talent development for leaders and staff and redesigning organizational infrastructure. 

What is the scope of an OD effort? 

OD efforts are most effective when they encompass the entire organization becoming the basis for a strategic plan. OD can be just as effective when applied to a MES modernization project. In this application of OD, we facilitate stakeholder engagement with the intent of person-centered service, concurrent design for operations, processes, and training side-by-side with the systems design and development. This approach is also referred to as human-centered design (HCD).  

Regardless of the scope, OD reinforces benchmarks of high-performance organizations including: 

  • Transparent and data-informed decision making 
  • Developed leadership building connections with consistent expectations 
  • Culture of continuous improvement and innovation 
  • Team-based success and ownership for outcomes 
  • Person-centered service 

What does OD look like in action? 

We facilitate leaders to assess their organization through the eyes of stakeholders, particularly staff and people served. Collaboratively, with no blame or shame, the leaders articulate where they are today and where they need to be in the future, and build a roadmap or strategic plan to get there. In the assessment and roadmap we use the following six focal points of the organization:  

  • Excellent leadership 
  • Effective strategy 
  • A workforce that is confident, competent, consistent, and compassionate 
  • Quality operations and process improvement 
  • Person-centered service that results in a positive client experience 
  • Quality program outcomes for the communities served 

The roadmap or strategic plan typically includes talent development, and redesign of the infrastructure, including structure, processes, communication mechanisms, performance management processes, deployment of resources, and job skills development approaches.  

Talent development ensures that your leaders are aligned, prepared, and most importantly leading and inspiring their people toward that vision and the development of the workforce. Talent development provides staff with the skills, knowledge, and abilities needed, and reinforces positive attitudes, beliefs, and willingness to work together towards common goals. This might also include restructuring business process redesign, it might include expanding roles or shifting roles.  

Principles of lean are an important component of organization development when redesigning processes and helps organizations, such as state Medicaid agencies, do more with the current resources. With so many constraints placed on organizations, the lean approach is a critical component of optimizing existing resources and finding cost savings through changing “what we do” and “how we do it”, as opposed to cutting “what we do” or “changing who does it”. Resource optimization is just one of the benefits of organization development. 

Why is it important to redesign your organization and develop your staff when you're implementing a new technology system, such as a new Medicaid Enterprise System module? 

For state Medicaid Agencies, the organization goal isn't to modernize a system, the goal is for competent and compassionate staff serving clients and providers to improve health and wellness in our communities. Our goal is streamlined processes that improve accuracy and timeliness. Look at the outcomes of the program, then design the systems that enable business processes and the people who make that process happen every single day. We go back to why we are doing anything in the first place. Why do we need this change? What are we trying to accomplish? If we're trying to accomplish better service, a healthier community, and streamline processes so we are cost effective, then it leads us to modernizing our enterprise system and making sure that our people are prepared to be successful in using that system. Aligning to the organizational goals, or what we call the North Star, sets us up for success with the enterprise efforts and the human efforts. 

What can clients do to navigate some of the uncertainties of a modernization effort, and how can they prepare their staff for what's next? 

First articulate the goals or why you want the modernization, and build a foundation with aligned, and effective leaders. Assess the needs of the organization from a “social” or people perspective and a technical or systems perspective (note: BerryDunn uses a socio-technical systems design approach). Then, engage staff to develop a high-performance, team-based culture to improve lean processes. Design and develop the system to enable lean business processes and concurrently have operations design standard operating procedures, and develop the training needed to optimize the new system.  

Leaders must lead. If leaders are fragmented, if they are not effective communicators, if they do not have a sense of trust and connection with their workforce, then any change will be sub-optimized and probably will be a frustrating experience for all.  

If the workforce is in a place where staff live with suspicion or a lack of trust, or maybe some dysfunctional interpersonal skills, then they are not in a place to learn a new system. If you try to build a system based on a fragmented organizational structure or inconsistent processes, you will not achieve the potential of the modernization efforts and will limit how people view your enterprise system. The worst thing you can do is invest millions of dollars in the system based on a flawed organizational design or trying to get that system to just do what we've always done. 

By starting with building the foundation of engaging employees, not just to make people feel good, but also to help them understand how to improve their processes and build a positive workplace. Do we have the transparency in our data so that we understand what the actual problems are? Can employees articulate the North Star goals, the constraints, the reasons to update systems, then the organizations will have a pull for change as opposed to a push.

Medicaid agencies and other organizations can create a pull for change by engaging with their resources who can identify what gets in the way of serving the clients, i.e., what gets in the way of timeliness or adds redundancy or rework to the process. The first step is building that foundation, getting people leaning in, and understanding what's happening. By laying the foundation first, organizations help reduce the barriers between operations and systems, and ensure that they're working collaboratively toward organizational goals, always keeping the ‘why’ in mind and using measures to know when they are successful. 

How does a state focus on organization development when they are facing budget and staffing constraints? 

It is too easy to say, "invest in your people". In reality, the first thing that state Medicaid agencies or other organizations need do is redefine their sense of lean. Many inaccurately believe that lean means limited resources working really hard. Lean is tapping into the potential creativity and innovation of each staff member to look for ways to improve the process. Organizations should look at everything they do and ask “Does this add value to the end recipient of our service?” Even if I'm processing travel reimbursement requests, I still have a customer, I still have a need for timeliness and accuracy. If state Medicaid agencies can mobilize that type of focus with every single employee in their organization, they can achieve huge cost savings without the pain of cutting the workforce.   

In one state where BerryDunn’s organization development team provided this level and type of organizational transformation, there was a very deliberate focus on building this foundation prior to a large-scale system modernization.

By developing the leaders and training the employees in how to improve their processes, improve teamwork and trust, and align to the goal of a positive client experience, they were able to effectively implement the new system and seamlessly move to remote pandemic conditions. Once the state Medicaid agency had aligned the technical systems and the people systems to the organizational goals, they were successful and more resilient for future changes.   

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

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Outcomes and organization development