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NAMD 2020 reflections: Together towards the future

11.16.20

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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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.

Article
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!

Article
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!

Article
Reflections on MESC 2017

Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement No. 93 Replacement of Interbank Offered Rates

Summary

With the global reference rate reform and the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) disappearing at the end of 2021, GASB Statement No. 93 was issued to address the accounting and financial impacts for replacing a reference rate. 

The article below is focused on Hedging Derivative Investments and amendments impacting Statement No. 87, Leases. We have not included guidance related to the Secured Overnight Financing Rate or the Up-Front Payments. 

Background

We have all heard that by the end of 2021, LIBOR will cease to exist in its current form. LIBOR is one of the most commonly used interbank offered rates (IBOR). Now what?

In March 2020, the GASB provided guidance to address the accounting treatment and financial reporting impacts of the replacement of IBORs with other referenced rates while maintaining reliable and comparable information. Statement No. 93 specifically addresses previously issued Statements No. 53, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Derivative Instruments, and No. 87, Leases, to provide updated guidance on how a change to the reference rate impacts the accounting for hedging transactions and leases.  

Here are our analyses of what is changing as well as easy-to-understand and important considerations for your organization as you implement the new standards.

Part 1: Hedging Derivative Instruments

The original guidance under Statement No. 53, Accounting and Financial Reporting for Derivative Instruments, as amended, requires that a government terminate a hedging transaction if the government renegotiates or amends a critical term of a hedging derivative instruction. 

Reference rate is the critical term that differentiates Statement No. 93 from Statement No. 53. The newly issued Statement No. 93 provides an exception that allows for certain hedging instruments to hedge the required accounting termination provisions when the IBOR is replaced with a new reference rate. 

In order words, under Statement No. 53, a modification of the IBOR would have caused the hedging instrument to terminate. However, Statement No. 93 now provides an exception to the termination rules as a result of the end of LIBOR. According to Statement No. 93, the exception is allowable when: 

  1. The hedging derivative instrument is amended or replaced to change the reference rate of the hedging derivative instrument’s variable payment or to add or change fallback provisions related to the reference rate of the variable payment.
  2. The reference rate of the amended or replacement hedging derivative instrument’s variable payment essentially equates to the reference rate of the original hedging derivative instrument’s variable payment by one or both of the following methods:
    • The replacement rate is multiplied by a coefficient or adjusted by addition or subtraction of a constant; the amount of the coefficient or constant is limited to what is necessary to essentially equate the replacement rate and the original rate
    •  An up-front payment is made between the parties; the amount of the payment is limited to what is necessary to essentially equate the replacement rate and the original rate.
  3. If the replacement of the reference rate is effectuated by ending the original hedging derivative instrument and entering into a replacement hedging derivative instrument, those transactions occur on the same date.
  4. Other terms that affect changes in fair values and cash flows in the original and amended or replacement hedging derivative instruments are identical, except for the term changes, as specified in number 1 below, that may be necessary for the replacement of the reference rate.

As noted above, there are term changes that may be necessary for the replacement of the reference rate are limited to the following

  • The frequency with which the rate of the variable payment resets
  • The dates on which the rate resets
  • The methodology for resetting the rate
  • The dates on which periodic payments are made.

Many contracts that will be impacted by LIBOR will be covered under Statement No. 93. The statement was created in order to ease with the transition and not create unnecessary burdens on the organizations. 

Part 2: Leases

Under the original guidance of Statement No. 87 Leases, lease contracts could be amended while the contract was in effect. This was considered a lease modification. In addition, the guidance states that an amendment to the contract during the reporting period would result in a separate lease. Examples of such an amendment included change in price, length, or the underlying asset.  

Included within Statement No. 93, are modifications to the lease standard as it relates to LIBOR. In situations where a contract contains variable payments with an IBOR, an amendment to replace IBOR with another rate by either changing the rate or adding or changing the fallback provisions related to the rate is not considered a lease modification. This modification does not require a separate lease. 

When is Statement No. 93 effective for me?

The removal of LIBOR as an appropriate interest rate is effective for reporting periods ending after June 31, 2021. All other requirements of Statement No. 93 are effective for all reporting periods beginning after June 15, 2022. Early adoption is allowed and encouraged. 

What should I do next? 

We encourage all those that may be impacted by LIBOR—whether with hedging derivative instruments, leases, and/or specific debt arrangements—to review all of their instruments to determine the specific impact on your organization. This process will be time consuming, and may require communication with the organizations with whom you are contracted to modify the terms so that they are agreeable to both parties.

If you would like more information about early adoption, or implementing the new Hedging Derivative Instruments or Leases, please contact Katy Balukas or Grant Ballantyne.
 

Article
The clock is ticking on LIBOR. Now what?

Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

GASB Statement No. 96 Subscription-Based Information Technology Agreements

Summary

GASB Statement No. 96 defines the term Subscription-Based Information Technology Agreements (SBITA) as “a contract that conveys control of the right to use another party’s (a SBITA vendor’s) information technology (IT) software, alone or in combination with tangible capital assets (the underlying IT assets), as specified in the contract for a period of time in an exchange or exchange-like transaction.”

GASB Statement No. 96 determines when a subscription should be recognized as a right-to-use subscription, and also determines the corresponding liability, capitalization criteria, and required disclosures. 

Why does this matter to your organization?

In 2018, Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) issued Accounting Standards Updated (ASU) 2018-15: Cloud Computing Arrangements for Service Contracts, and we knew it would only be a matter of time when a similar standard would be issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Today, more and more governmental entities are purchasing software in the cloud as opposed to a software that is housed locally on their machine or network. This creates the need for updated guidance in order to improve overall financial reporting, while maintaining consistency and comparability among governmental entities. 

What should you do?

We are going to walk through the steps to determine if a SBITA exists—from identification through how it may be recognized in your financial statements. You can use this step-by-step guide to review each individual subscription-based software to determine if Statement No. 96 applies.

Step 1: Identifying a SBITA

There is one important question to ask yourself when determining if a SBITA exists:

Will this software no longer work/will we no longer be able to log in once the contract term ends?

If your answer is “yes”, it is likely that a SBITA exists.  

Step 2: Determine whether a contract conveys control of the right to use underlying IT assets

According to Statement No. 96, the contract meets the right to use underlying IT assets by:

  • The right to obtain the present service capacity from use of the underlying IT assets as specified in the contract
  • The right to determine the nature and manner of use of the underlying IT assets as specified in the contact

Step 3: Determine the length of the subscription term

The subscription term starts when a governmental entity has a non-cancellable right to use the underlying IT assets. This is the period during which the SBITA vendor does not have the ability to cancel the contract, increase or decrease rates, or change the benefits/terms of the service. The contract language for this period can also include an option for the organization or the SBITA vendor to extend or terminate the contract, if it is reasonably certain that either of these options will be exercised.

Once a subscription term is set, your organization should revisit the term if one or more of the following occurs:

  • The potential option (extend/terminate) is exercised by either the entity or the SBITA vendor 
  • The potential option (extend/terminate) is not exercised by either the government or the SBITA vendor
  • An extension or termination of the SBITA occurs 

If the maximum possible term under the SBITA contract is 12 months or less, including any options to extend, regardless of their possibility of being exercised, an exception for short-term SBITAs has been provided under the statement. Such contracts do not need to be recognized under the Statement and the subscription payments will be recognized as outflows of resources. 

Step 4: Measurement of subscription liability 

The subscription liability is measured at the present value of the subscription payments expected to be made during the previously determined subscription term. The SBITA contract will include specific measures that should be used in determining the liability that could include the following:

  • Fixed payments
  • Variable payments
  • Payments for penalties for termination
  • Contract incentives
  • Any other payments to the SBITA which are included in the contract

The future payments are discounted using the interest rate that the SBITA charges to your organization. The interest rate may be implicit in the contract. If it is not readily determinable, the rate should be estimated using your organization’s incremental borrowing rate. 

Your organization will only need to re-measure the subscription liability is there is a change to the subscription term, change in the estimated amounts of payments, change in the interest rate the SBITA charges to your organization, or contingencies related to variable payments. A change in the discount rate alone would not require a re-measurement. 

Step 5: Measurement of subscription asset

The SBITA asset should be measured at the total of the following:

  • The amount of the initial measurement of the subscription liability (noted in Step 4 above)
  • If applicable, any payments made to the SBITA vendor at the beginning of the subscription term
  • The capitalized initial implementation costs (noted in Step 6 below)

Any SBITA vendor incentives received should be subtracted from the total.

Step 6: Capitalization of other outlays

In addition to the IT asset, Statement No. 96 provides for other outlays associated with the subscription to be capitalized as part of the total subscription asset. When implementing the IT asset, the activities can be divided into three stages: 

  • Preliminary project stage: May include a needs assessment, selection, and planning activities and should be recorded as expenses.
  • Initial implementation stage: May include testing, configuration, installation and other ancillary charges necessary to implemental the IT asset. These costs should be capitalized and included in the subscription asset.
  • Operation and additional implementation stage: May include maintenance and troubleshooting and should be expensed.

Step 7: Amortization

The subscription asset are amortized over the shorter of the subscription terms or the useful life of the underlying IT assets. The amortization of the asset are reported as amortization expense or an outflow of resources. Amortization should commence at the beginning of the subscription term. 

When is this effective?

Statement No. 96 is effective for all fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2022, fiscal and calendar years 2023. Early adoption is allowed and encouraged.

Changes to adopt the pronouncement are applied retroactively by restating previously issued financial statements, if practical, for all fiscal years presented. If restatement is not practical, a cumulative effect of the change can be reported as a restatement to the beginning net position (or fund balance) for the earliest year restated. 

What should you do next? 

With any new GASB Standard comes challenges. We encourage governmental entities to re-review their vendor contracts for software-related items and work with their software vendors to identify any questions or potential issues. While the adoption is not required until fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2022, we recommend that your organization start tracking any new contracts as they are entered o starting now to determine if they meet the requirements of SBITA. We also recommend that your organization tracks all of the outlays associated with the software to determine which costs are associated with the initial implementation stage and can be capitalized. 

What are we seeing with early adoption?

Within the BerryDunn client base, we are aware of at least one governmental organization that will be early adopting. We understand that within component units of state governments, the individual component unit is required to adopt a new standard only when the state determines that they will adopt.

If you are entering into new software contracts that meet the SBITA requirements between now and the required effective date, we would recommend early adoption. If you are interested in early adoption of GASB Statement No. 96, or have any specific questions related to the implementation of the standard, please contact Katy Balukas or Grant Ballantyne

Article
Our take on SBITA: Making accounting for cloud-based software less nebulous

Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

GASB Statement No. 97, Certain Component Unit Criteria, and Accounting and Financial Reporting for Internal Revenue Code Section 457 Deferred Compensation Plans (GASB 97) addresses specific practice issues that have arisen related to retirement plans. The standard can be roughly divided into two parts, each of which focus on a different aspect of governmental retirement plan accounting. 

Part 1: Component units

Over the years, GASB has wrestled with clarifying exactly what entities should be included in a set of stand-alone financial statements. In general, it defined a financial reporting entity as a stand-alone government and all entities for which it is financially accountable, known as component units. One of the many situations where the government is financially accountable for another entity is where the majority of the entity’s board is appointed by the government. 

GASB 97 clarifies that when the entity has no governing board and the government performs the functions that a board would normally perform, the consideration of consolidation should be the same as if the government appointed a voting majority of a hypothetical governing board. This portion of the standard is consistent with previously issued implementation guides. 

What is new is that GASB 97 creates an exception, allowing defined contribution pension plans, defined contribution OPEB plans, and certain Section 457 plans who do not have a board to be excluded from consideration as a component unit. While GASB believes that it would be appropriate to include them like other entities, they listened to stakeholders who voiced their concerns about the costs of presenting defined contribution plans as component units. Their research showed that most stakeholders do not use information related to defined contribution plans presented as component units of governments, although if the government controls the assets, such information is more valued. GASB decided to balance the costs of preparation with the usefulness of the information.  

Additionally, for the purposes of determining component units, the government is not considered to have a financial burden for defined contribution pension plans and defined contribution OPEB plans that are administered through trusts. 

What should you do? 

First, the intended impact is that there will be fewer defined benefit plans presented as component units. If you currently present a defined benefit plan as a component unit, you may be able to save money by excluding them from the government-wide financial statements. 

Second, if you currently report a defined contribution plan that is administered through a trust as a component unit, you should reassess whether that is still considered a component unit. Remember, even if it is not a component unit, GASB Statement No. 84 Fiduciary Activities may still require it to be included in the financials if the primary government controls the assets. 

When does this apply? 

These changes are effective immediately. 

Part 2: Section 457 plans

Back in 1997 when GASB Statement No. 32 was issued, GASB did not believe it likely that plans established under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 457 would be pension plans because at that time, most Section 457 plans did not have employer contributions. In the more than twenty years that have passed since then, the IRC and characteristics of some of these plans have changed, forcing GASB to reconsider their classification. With the issuance of GASB 97, the board stated that it believes Section 457 plans could indeed be pensions. Therefore, Section 457 plans which fit the definition of a pension trigger the same reporting requirements of any other pension plan. 

What should you do? 

If your governmental organization has an employee benefit plan under Section 457, you should take the following steps: 

First, determine whether the plan is a “pension plan” or not. Pension plans provide retirement income or other postemployment benefits such as death benefits, life insurance, and disability benefits. Pensions do not include postemployment healthcare benefits and termination benefits. 

Despite the common usage of “pension” to mean only defined benefit plans, the statement is clear that the term “pension plan” includes defined contribution plans as well.

If the plan fits this definition, proceed to the next step. If not, this statement does not impact you. 

Second, if your Section 457 plan meets the definition of a pension plan and either issues its own standalone financial statements or is included in the financial statements of another government, those financial statements should include all financial reporting requirements that are relevant to pension plans. 

Generally, this means that GASB Statement No. 68 Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions (GASB 68) and all its related disclosure requirements are applicable, although there are some plans that don’t fall within GASB 68’s scope where GASB Statement No. 73 Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pensions and Related Assets That Are Not within the Scope of GASB Statement 68, and Amendments to Certain Provisions of GASB Statements 67 and 68 applies instead. The additional requirements will not look the same for all entities; defined benefit and defined contribution plans have different reporting requirements and their footnote disclosures will differ. 

When does this apply? 

The requirements related to Section 457 plans apply to fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2021. Some stakeholders requested that GASB delay the adoption due to COVID-19, but the GASB believes that the adoption date they set provides sufficient time for adoption. 

What else do you need to know? 

If your retirement plan falls within the scope of this pronouncement, you may have new costs to deal with, including potentially having to consult with an actuary to develop a model to prepare the new disclosures if you have a defined benefit pension. Fortunately, the GASB believes that most of the additional disclosures will relate to defined contribution pensions which have simpler note disclosures. 

If you would like more information or have questions about your specific situation, please contact Nathan Dunlap or Grant Ballantyne. We’re here to help.
 

Article
GASB 97: What's new, what to do, and what you need to know

Read this if your organization operates under the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB).

Along with COVID-19 related accounting changes that require our constant attention, we need to continue to keep our eyes on the changes that routinely emerge from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). Here is a brief overview of what GASB Statement No. 93, Replacement of Interbank Offered Rates, Statement No. 96, Subscription-Based Information Technology Arrangements, and Statement No. 97 Certain Component Unit Criteria, and Accounting and Financial Reporting for Internal Revenue Code Section 457 Deferred Compensation Plans, may mean to you. If you want more detail, we’ve included links to more analyses and in-depth explanation of what you need to know now.

GASB 93

We have all heard that by the end of 2021, LIBOR will cease to exist in its current form. In March 2020, the GASB provided guidance to address the accounting treatment and financial reporting impacts of the replacement of interbank offered rates (IBORs) with other referenced rates, while maintaining reliable and comparable information. Statement No. 93 specifically addresses previously issued Statement Nos. 53 and 87 to provide updated guidance on how a change to the reference rate impacts the accounting for hedging transactions and lease arrangements.  Read more in our article The Clock is Ticking on LIBOR. Now What?

GASB 96

GASB Statement No. 96 defines the term Subscription-Based Information Technology Agreements (SBITA) as “A contract that conveys control of the right to use another party’s (a SBITA vendor’s) information technology (IT) software, alone or in combination with tangible capital assets (the underlying IT assets), as specified in the contract for a period of time in an exchange or exchange-like transaction.”

GASB Statement No. 96 determines when a subscription should be recognized as a right-to-use subscription, and also determines the corresponding liability, capitalization criteria, and required disclosures. Learn why this matters and what you need to do next: Our Take on SBITA: Making Accounting for Cloud-Based Software Less Nebulous

GASB 97

GASB Statement 97 addresses specific practice issues that have arisen related to retirement plans. The standard is roughly divided into two parts—component units and Section 457 plans—each of which focus on a different aspect of governmental retirement plan accounting. Help your organization gain an understanding of the standard with our article GASB 97: What is New, What Should I Do, and What Else do I Need to Know.

If you have questions about these pronouncements and what they mean to your organization, please contact Grant Ballantyne.

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Update for GASB-governed organizations: Lease accounting, LIBOR transition, SBITA, and Section 457 plans