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People and processes: Planning health and human services IT systems modernization to improve outcomes

11.23.20

Read this if you are a director or manager at a Health and Human Services agency in charge of modernizing your state's Health and Human Services systems. 

When states start to look at outdated Health and Human Services systems like Eligibility Systems or Medicaid Enterprise Systems, they spend a lot of time on strategic planning efforts and addressing technology deficiencies that set the direction for their agencies. While they pay a lot of attention to the technology aspects of the work, they often overlook others. Here are three to pay attention to: 

  1. Business process improvement
  2. Organization development
  3. Organizational change management

Including these important steps in strategic planning often improves the likelihood of an implementation of Health and Human Service systems that provide the fully intended value or benefit to the citizen they help serve. When planning major system improvements, agencies need to have the courage to ask other critical questions that, when answered, will help guarantee greater success upon implementation of modernized system.

Don’t forget, it’s not only about new technology—it’s about gaining efficiencies in your business processes, structuring your organization in a manner that supports business process improvements, and helping the people in your organization and external stakeholders accept change.  

Business process improvement 

When thinking about improving business processes, a major consideration is to identify what processes can be improved to save time and money, and deliver services to those in need faster. When organizations experience inefficiencies in their business processes, more often than not the underlying processes and systems are at fault, not the people. Determining which processes require improvement can be challenging. However, analyzing your business processes is a key factor in strategic planning, understanding the challenges in existing processes and their underlying causes, and developing solutions to eliminate or mitigate those causes are essential to business process improvement.

Once you pinpoint areas of process improvement, you can move forward with reviewing your organization, classifying needs for potential organization development, and begin developing requirements for the change your organization needs.

Organization development

An ideal organizational structure fully aligns with the mission, vision, values, goals, and strategy of an organization. One question to ask when considering the need for organization development is, “What does your organization need to look like to support your state’s to-be vision?” Answering this question can provide a roadmap that helps you achieve:

  1. Improved outcomes for vulnerable populations, such as those receiving Medicaid, TANF, SNAP, or other Health and Human Services benefits 
  2. Positive impacts on social determinants of health in the state
  3. Significant cost savings through a more leveraged workforce and consolidated offices with related fixed expenses—and turning focus to organizational change management

Organization development does not stop at reviewing an organization’s structure. It should include reviewing job design, cultural changes, training systems, team design, and human resource systems. Organizational change is inherent in organization development, which involves integration of a change management strategy. When working through organization development, consideration of the need for organizational change should be included in both resource development and as part of the cultural shift.

Organizational change management

Diverging from the norm can be an intimidating prospect for many people. Within your organization, you likely have diverse team members who have different perspectives about change. Some team members will be willing to accept change easily, some will see the positive outcomes from change, but have reservations about learning a new way of approaching their jobs, and there will be others who are completely resistant to change. 

Successful organizational change management happens by allowing team members to understand why the organization needs to change. Leaders can help staff gain this understanding by explaining the urgency for change that might include:

  • Aging technology: Outdated systems sometimes have difficulty transmitting data or completing simple automated tasks.
  • Outdated processes: “Because we’ve always done it this way” is a red flag, and a good reason to examine processes and possibly help alleviate stressors created by day-to-day tasks. It might also allow your organization to take care of some vital projects that had been neglected because before there wasn’t time to address them as a result of outdated processes taking longer than necessary.
  • Barriers to efficiency: Duplicative processes caused by lack of communication between departments within the organization, refusal to change, or lack of training can all lead to less efficiency.

To help remove stakeholder resistance to change and increase excitement (and adoption) around new initiatives, you must make constant communication and training an integral component of your strategic plan. 

Investing in business process improvement, organization development, and organizational change management will help your state obtain the intended value and benefits from technology investments and most importantly, better serve citizens in need. 

Does your organization have interest in learning more about how to help obtain the fully intended value and benefits from your technology investments? Contact our Health and Human Services consulting team to talk about how you can incorporate business process improvement, organization development, and organizational change management activities into your strategic planning efforts.

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Erica Rice as a Senior Consultant and Prosci®-certified Change Practitioner (CCP) in BerryDunn's Government Consulting Group currently supporting State Medicaid Agencies. She offers clients demonstrated expertise in the areas of organizational development; organizational change management; MITA State Self-Assessments (SS-A), and CMS certification of Medicaid Enterprise systems.

Erica helps State Medicaid agencies with MITA SS-As, certification, organizational development, and organization change management, vendor assessments, and RFP development.
 

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Erica Rice

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.

Article
Outcomes and organization development 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article
Outcomes and APD considerations

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scaling project outcomes

Read this if your agency is planning to procure a services vendor.

In our previous article, we looked at three primary areas we, or a potential vendor, consider when responding to a request for services. In this follow-up, we look at additional factors that influence the decision-making process on whether a potential vendor decides to respond to a request for services.

  • Relationship with this state/entity―Is this a state or client that we have worked with before? Do we understand their business and their needs?

    A continuing relationship allows us to understand the client’s culture and enables us to perform effectively and efficiently. By establishing a good relationship, we can assure the client that we can perform the services as outlined and at a fair cost.
  • Terms and conditions, performance bonds, or service level agreements―Are any of these items unacceptable? If there are concerns, can we request exceptions or negotiate with the state?

    When we review a request for services our legal and executive teams assess the risk of agreeing to the state’s terms and compare them against our existing contract language. States might consider requesting vendors provide exceptions to terms and conditions in their bid response to open the door for negotiations. Not allowing exceptions can result in vendors assuming that all terms are non-negotiable and may limit the amount of vendor bid responses received or increase the cost of the proposal.

    The inclusion of well-defined service level agreements (SLAs) in requests for proposals (RFPs) can be an effective way to manage resulting contracts. However, SLAs with undefined or punitive performance standards, compliance calculations, and remedies can also cause a vendor to consider whether to submit a bid response.

    RFPs for states that require performance bonds may result in significantly fewer proposals submitted, as the cost of a performance bond may make the total cost of the project too high to be successfully completed. If not required by law that vendors obtain performance bonds, states may want to explore other effective contractual protections that are more impactful than performance bonds, such as SLAs, warranties, and acceptance criteria.
  • Mandatory requirements―Are we able to meet the mandatory requirements? Does the cost of meeting these requirements keep us in a competitive range?

    Understanding the dichotomy between mandatory requirements and terms and conditions can be challenging, because in essence, mandatory requirements are non-negotiable terms and conditions. A state may consider organizing mandatory requirements into categories (e.g., system requirements, project requirements, state and federal regulations). This can help potential vendors determine whether all of the mandatory requirements are truly non-negotiable. Typically, vendors are prepared to meet all regulatory requirements, but not necessarily all project requirements.
  • Onsite/offsite requirements―Can we meet the onsite/offsite requirements? Do we already have nearby resources available? Are any location requirements negotiable?

    Onsite/offsite requirements have a direct impact on the project cost. Factors include accessibility of the onsite location, frequency of required onsite participation, and what positions/roles are required to be onsite or local. These requirements can make the resource pool much smaller when RFPs require staff to be located in the state office or require full-time onsite presence. And as a result, we may decide not to respond to the RFP.

    If the state specifies an onsite presence for general positions (e.g., project managers and business analysts), but is more flexible on onsite requirements for technical niche roles, the state may receive more responses to their request for services and/or more qualified consultants.
  • Due date of the proposal―Do we have the available proposal staff and subject matter experts to complete a quality proposal in the time given?

    We consider several factors when looking at the due date, including scope, the amount of work necessary to complete a quality response, and the proposal’s due date. A proposal with a very short due date that requires significant work presents a challenge and may result in less quality responses received.
  • Vendor available staffing―Do we have qualified staff available for this project? Do we need to work with subcontractors to get a complete team?

    We evaluate when the work is scheduled to begin to ensure we have the ability to provide qualified staff and obtain agreements with subcontractors. Overly strict qualifications that narrow the pool of qualified staff can affect whether we are able to respond. A state might consider whether key staff really needs a specific certification or skill or, instead, the proven ability to do the required work.

    For example, technical staff may not have worked on this particular type of project, but on a similar one with easily transferable skills. We have several long-term relationships with our subcontractors and find they can be an integral part of the services we propose. If carefully managed and vetted, we feel subcontractors can be an added value for the states.
  • Required certifications (e.g., Project Management Professional® (PMP®), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) certification)―Does our staff have the required certifications that are needed to complete this project?

    Many projects requests require specific certifications. On a small project, maybe other certifications can help ensure that we have the skills required for a successful project. Smaller vendors, particularly, might not have PMP®-certified staff and so may be prohibited from proposing on a project that they could perform with high quality.
  • Project timeline―Is the timeline to complete the project reasonable and is our staff available during the timeframe needed for each position for the length of the project?

    A realistic and reasonable timeline is critical for the success of a project. This is a factor we consider as we identify any clear or potential risks. A qualified vendor will not provide a proposal response to an unrealistic project timeline, without requesting either to negotiate the contract or requesting a change order later in the project. If the timeline is unrealistic, the state also runs the risk that the vendor will create many change requests, leading to a higher cost.

Other things we consider when responding to a request for services include: is there a reasonable published budget, what are the minority/women-owned business (M/WBE) requirements, and are these new services that we are interested in and do they fit within our company's overall business objectives?

Every vendor may have their own checklist and/or process that they go through before making a decision to propose on new services. We are aware that states and their agencies want a wide-variety of high-quality responses from which to choose. Understanding the key areas that a proposer evaluates may help states provide requirements that lead to more high-quality and better value proposals. If you would like to learn more about our process, or have specific questions, please contact the Medicaid Consulting team.

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What vendors want: Other factors that influence vendors when considering responding to a request for services

Read this if your agency is planning to procure a services vendor. 

Every published request for services aims to acquire the highest-quality services for the best value. Requests may be as simple as an email to a qualified vendor list or as formal as a request for proposal (RFP) published on a state’s procurement website. However big or small the request, upon receiving it, we, or a potential vendor, triages it using the following primary criteria:

  1. Scope of services―Are these services or solutions we can provide? If we can’t provide the entire scope of services, do we have partners that can?
    As a potential responding vendor, we review the scope of services to see if it is clearly defined and provides enough detail to help us make a decision to pursue the proposal. Part of this review is to check if there are specific requests for products or solutions, and if the requests are for products or solutions that we provide or that we can easily procure to support the scope of work. 
  2. Qualifications―What are the requirements and can we meet them?
    We verify that we can supply proofs of concept to validate experience and qualification requirements. We check to see if the requirements and required services/solutions are clearly defined and we confirm that we have the proof of experience to show the client. Strict or inflexible requirements may mean a new vendor is unable to propose new and innovative services and may not be the right fit.
  3. Value―Is this a service request that we can add value to? Will it provide fair compensation?
    We look to see if we can perform the services or provide the solution at a rate that meets the client’s budget. Sometimes, depending upon the scope of services, we can provide services at a rate typically lower than our competitors. Or, conversely, though we can perform the scope of services, the software/hardware we would have to purchase might make our cost lower in value to the client than a well-positioned competitor.

An answer of “no” on any of the above questions typically means that we will pass on responding to the opportunity. 

The above questions are primary considerations. There are other factors when we consider an opportunity, such as where the work is located in comparison to our available resources and if there is an incumbent vendor with a solid and successful history. We will consider these and other factors in our next article. If you would like to learn more about our process, or have specific questions, please contact the Medicaid Consulting team.
 

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What vendors want: Vendor decision process in answering requests for services

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 now:


Over the last two years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has undertaken an effort to streamline Medicaid Enterprise System (MES) certification. During this time, we have been fortunate enough to have been 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. 

What is outcomes-based certification (OBC)? 

OBC (or streamlined modular certification) is a fascinating evolution in MES certification. OBC represents a fundamental rethinking of certification and how we measure the success of system implementation and modernization efforts. The prior certification approach, as many know it, is centrally focused on technical capability, answering the question, “Can the system perform the required functions?” 

OBC represents a shift away from this technical certification and toward business process improvement, instead answering the question, “How is this new technology enhancing the Medicaid program?” Or, put differently, “Is this new technology helping my Medicaid program achieve its desired outcomes?” 

What are the key differences between the MECT and OBC? 

To understand the differences, we have to first talk about what isn’t changing. Technical criteria still exist, but only so far as CMS is confirming compliance with core regulatory and statutory requirements—including CMS’ Standards and Conditions. That’s about the extent of the similarities. In addition to pivoting to business process improvement, we understand that CMS is looking to generalize certification under this new approach, meaning that we wouldn’t see the same Medicaid Information Technology Architecture (MITA)-tied checklists like Provider Management, or Decision Support Systems. Instead, we might expect more generalized guidance that would allow for a more tailored certification. 

Additionally, OBC introduces outcomes statements which serve as the guiding principles for certification. Everything, including the technical criteria, roll-up into an outcome statement. This type of roll up might actually feel familiar, as we see a similar structure in how Medicaid Enterprise Certification Toolkit (MECT) criteria rolled up into critical success factors. 

The biggest difference, and the one states need to understand above all else, is the use of key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs aren’t just point-in-time certification measures, they are expected to be reported against regularly—say, quarterly—in order to maintain enhanced funding. Additionally, it’s likely that each criterion will have an associated KPI, meaning that states will continue to be accountable to these criteria long after the Certification Final Review. 

How are KPIs developed? 

We’ve seen KPIs developed in two ways. For more strategic, high level KPIs, CMS develops a baseline set of KPIs heading into collaborating with a state on an OBC effort. In these instances, CMS has historically sought input on whether those KPIs are reasonable and can be easily reported against. CMS articulates what it wants to measure conceptually, and works with a state to ensure that the KPI achieves that within the scope of a state’s program.  

For KPIs specific to a state’s Medicaid program, CMS engages with states to draft new KPIs. In these instances, we’ve seen CMS partner with states to understand the business need for the new system, how it fits into the Medicaid enterprise, and what the desired outcome of the particular approach is. 

What should states consider as they plan for MES procurements? 

While there might be many considerations pertaining to OBC and procurements, two are integral to success. First—as CMS noted in the virtual MESC session earlier this month—engage CMS at the idea stage of a project. Experience tells us that CMS is ready and willing to collaborate with—and incorporate the needs of—states that engage at this idea stage. That early collaboration will help shape the certification path. 

Second, consider program outcomes when conceptualizing the procurement. Keep these outcomes central to base procurement language, requirements, and service level agreements. We’re likely to see the need for states to incorporate these outcomes into contracts. 

What does this mean for MES modularity and scalability? 

Based on our current understanding of the generalization of certification, states, and subsequently the industry at large, will continue to refine what modularity means based on Medicaid program needs. Scalability represents an interesting question, as we’ve seen OBC scaled horizontally across smaller, discrete business areas like pharmacy or provider management. Now we’re seeing the beginnings of vertical scaling of a more streamlined certification approach to larger components of the enterprise, such as financial management and claims processing. 

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

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Considerations for outcomes-based certification

Read this if you are working with an auditor.

The standard report an auditor issues on an entity’s financial statements was created in 1988, and has only had minor tweaking since. Amazing when we think about how the world has changed since 1988! Back then:

  • The World Wide Web hadn’t been invented
  • The Simpsons wasn’t yet on TV, and neither was Seinfeld
  • The Berlin Wall was still standing
  • The Single Audit Act celebrated its fourth birthday

The Auditing Standards Board (ASB), an independent board of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) that establishes auditing rules for not-for-profit organizations (as well as private company and federal, state, and local governmental entities) has decided it was high time to revisit the auditor’s report, and update it to provide additional information about the audit process that stakeholders have been requesting.

In addition to serving as BerryDunn’s quality assurance principal for the past 23 years, I’ve been serving on the ASB since January 2017, and as chair since May 2020. (And thanks to the pandemic our meetings during my tenure as chair have been conducted from my dining room table.)  We thought you might be interested in a high-level overview of the coming changes to the auditor’s report, which will be effective starting with calendar 2021 audits, from an insider’s perspective.

So what’s changing?

The most significant changes you’ll be seeing, based on feedback from various users of auditor’s reports, are:

  1. Opinion first
    The opinion in an audit report is the auditor’s conclusion as to whether the financial statements are in accordance with the applicable accounting standards, in all material respects. People told us this is the most important part of the report, so we’ve moved it to the first section of the report.
  2. Auditor’s ethical responsibilities
    We’ve pointed out that an auditor is required to be independent of the organization being audited, and to meet certain other ethical responsibilities in the conduct of the audit.
  3. “Going concern” responsibilities
    We describe management’s responsibility, under U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, and the auditor’s responsibility, under the auditing rules, for determining whether “substantial doubt” exists about the organization’s ability to continue in existence for at least one year following the date the financial statements are approved for issuance.
  4. Emphasis on professional judgment and professional skepticism
    We explain how an audit requires the auditor to exercise professional judgment (for example, regarding how much testing to perform), and to maintain professional skepticism, i.e., a questioning mind that is alert to the possibility the financial statements may be materially misstated, whether due to error or fraud.
  5. Communications with the board of directors
    We point out that the auditor is required to communicate certain matters to the board, such as difficulties encountered during the audit, material adjustments identified during the audit process, and which areas the auditor treated as “significant risks” in planning and performing the audit.
  6. Responsibility related to the “annual report”
    If the organization issues an “annual report” containing or referring to the audited financial statements, we explain the auditor is required to review it for consistency with the financial statements, and for any known misstatements of fact.
  7. Discussion of “key audit matters”
    While not required, your organization may request the auditor to discuss how certain “key audit matters” (those most significant to the audit) were addressed as part of the audit process. These are similar to the “critical audit matters” publicly traded company auditor’s reports are now required to include.

Yes, this means the auditor’s report will be longer; however, stakeholders told us inclusion of this information will make it more informative, and useful, for them.

Uniform Guidance standards also changing

Is your organization required to have a compliance audit under the federal Uniform Guidance standards? That report is also changing to reflect the items listed above to the extent they’re relevant.

What should you do?

Some actions to consider as you get ready for the first audit to which the new report applies (calendar 2021, or fiscal years ending in 2022) include:

  1. Ask your auditor what your organization’s auditor’s report will look like
    Your auditor can provide examples of auditor’s reports under the new rules, or even draft a pro forma auditor’s report for your organization (subject, of course, to the results of the audit).
  2. Outline and communicate your process for developing your annual report
    If your organization prepares an annual report, it will be important to coordinate its timing with that of the issuance of the auditor’s report, due to the auditor’s new reporting responsibility related to the annual report.
  3. Discuss with your board whether you would like the auditor to include a discussion of “key audit matters” in the auditor’s report
    While not required for not-for-profits, some organizations may decide to request the auditor include a discussion of such matters in the report, from the standpoint of transparency “best practices.”

If you have any questions about the new auditor’s report or your specific situation, please contact us. We’re here to help.
 

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A new auditor's report: Seven changes to know