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Product Management Office: Benefits for WIC state agencies

By: Danni Ricks,

Erica is a Project Coordinator in BerryDunn’s State Government Practice Group. Based in Charleston, WV, she provides project coordination for a multi-state consortium of WIC agencies as well as other public health projects including Electronic Death Records System (EDRS) implementation and Health Disparities grant management. 

Erica Hoffman
01.12.22

Is your Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agency struggling with Maintenance and Enhancement (M&E) vendor management? Here are some approaches to help improve your situation: 

  • Product Management Office (PdMO): Product management can help you manage your WIC system by coordinating and planning releases with the M&E vendor, prioritizing enhancements, reviewing workflows, and providing overall vendor management.
  • Project Management Office (PMO): Project management can help with budgeting, resource management, risk management, and organization. 
  • A blend of product and project management is a great partnership that can relieve some of the responsibilities of WIC agency staff and allows a third party to provide support in all areas of product and project management.

Whether you are an independent WIC State Agency (SA) or a multi-state consortium (MSC), having a PMO and/or PdMO can help alleviate some of the challenges facing WIC today. While an MSC may present significant cost savings, managing an M&E contract for multiple states can be overwhelming. Independent state agencies (SAs) may not have multiple states to coordinate with, but having the staff resources for vendor facilitation and implementing federal changes can be challenging. A PMO/PdMO can aid in improving business and technology outcomes for SAs and MSCs by bringing a level of coordination and consistency that otherwise might not happen. 

As federal changes grow in complexity, evidenced by the many changes to WIC stemming from the American Rescue Plan Act, coupled with workforce challenges in government, the importance of a PMO/PdMO has never been greater. Here are six ways a PMO/PdMO can help you:

  1. Facilitate the vendor relationship
    A PMO/PdMO not only holds the vendor accountable but also takes some of the workload off the SA by facilitating meetings, providing meeting notes, and tracking action items and decisions.
  2. Manage centrally located data
    A PMO/PdMO keeps all documents and data in a centralized location, fostering a collaborative environment and ease of access to needed information. A centralized location of data allows SAs to be on the same page for consistency, quality control, and to support the state’s need for clean, reliable information that is current and accurate.
  3. Track and mitigate risks 
    Effective risk management requires a substantial commitment of time and resources. The PMO/PdMO identifies, tracks, and assesses the severity of risks and suggests approaches to manage those risks. Some PMO/PdMOs assess all risks based on a severity index to help clients determine which risks need immediate action and which need monitoring.
  4.  Assist in the creation of Implementation Advanced Planning Document Updates (IAPDUs) 
    Creating and implementing an IAPDU can be time-consuming, confusing, and requires attention to detail. A PMO/PdMO alleviates time and pressure on SAs by helping to ensure that an IAPDU or funding request clearly outlines a plan of action to accomplish the activities necessary to reach an organization’s goal. PMO/PdMOs can draft IAPDUs to determine the need, feasibility, and projected costs and benefits for service. 
  5. Provide an unbiased, third-party opinion 
    A PMO/PdMO will offer an unbiased, third-party opinion to help avoid misunderstanding and frustration, decision stalemates, inadequate solutions, and unpleasant relationships between WIC agencies and M&E vendors. 
  6. Provide the right combination of business and technical expertise
    Staffing challenges (exacerbated by COVID-19), difficulties finding expertise managing software change management for WIC, and a retiring workforce knowledgeable in WIC system implementation have in some cases left SAs without critical resources. Having the right combination of skills from a third party can resolve some of these challenges.

Independent SAs or MSCs would benefit from having a PMO/PdMO to help meet the challenges WIC agencies face today, whether it is an unplanned funding change or updates to the risk codes. With the help of a PMO/PdMO developing standard practices and methodologies, SAs and MSCs can deliver and implement high-quality services more consistently and efficiently. The role of the PMO/PdMO is far-reaching and positively impacts WIC by providing backbone support for WIC’s overarching goal, to “safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children who are at nutrition risk.”

If you have questions about PMOs or PdMOs and the impact they can have on your agency, please contact us. We're here to help.

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Read this if your State Medicaid Agency is planning Medicaid Enterprise System enhancements.

Are you a system integrator (SI) or a State Medicaid Agency (SMA) implementing or enhancing a Medicaid system or specific module? Have you considered how decisions made during design and implementation could impact the federal Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) reviews for SMAs?

The goal of PERM is to measure and report an unbiased estimate of the true improper payment rate for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Every state is reviewed once every three years using a sample that includes both fee for service (FFS) and managed care (MC) payments. A state assigned error rate is not the only consequence resulting from the PERM review; there are also financial implications.

Risk reduction from PERM review

Maintaining a focus on PERM review factors when making decisions during design and implementation can protect states by reducing the risk of:

  • Submitting change requests (CR) during implementation, which can result in additional cost and time
  • Implementing changes to existing Medicaid systems during maintenance and operations
  • Findings reported during certification efforts
  • Refunding federal dollars due to improperly paid claims
  • A reduction in federal match on all claims paid

It is also important to understand the benefits of a dedicated PERM team within the state organization that includes members from the system vendor and outside PERM experts. These benefits include providing states an additional level of security to help ensure a positive outcome to the federal PERM review, helping to protect federal funding.

Having a dedicated team will help ensure all decisions made during system updates and/or implementations are made while keeping focus on PERM requirements and the further impacts of PERM reviews, saving time and remaining compliant.

Plan ahead for best results

When planning for a new module or Medicaid system request for proposal (RFPs), consider PERM-related requirements to help ensure all PERM needs are met to prevent errors and repayment of federal funds. Including PERM requirements can also help your agency ensure federal compliance and successful PERM audits. Doing so will likely reduce the amount of time system integrators spend re-working earlier development decisions and help ensure claim payments are processed, and eligibility determinations are made in accordance with federal and state regulations.

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

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PERM success for Medicaid agencies through system implementations

Read this if you are a behavioral health agency leader looking for solutions to manage mental health, substance misuse, and overdose crises.

As state health departments across the country continue to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, stalling vaccination rates, and public heath workforce burnout, other crises in behavioral health may be looming. Diverted resources, disruption in treatment, and the mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health disorders, substance use, and drug overdoses.

State agencies need behavioral health solutions perhaps now more than ever. BerryDunn works with state agencies to mitigate the challenges of managing behavioral health and implement innovative strategies and solutions to better serve beneficiaries. Read on to understand how conducting a needs assessment, redesigning processes, and/or establishing a strategic plan can amplify the impact of your programs. 

Behavioral health in crisis

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders has steadily increased over the past decade, and the pandemic has exacerbated these trends. A number of recently released studies show increases in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. One CDC study indicates that in June 2020 over 40% of adults reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, which includes about 13% who have started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.1 

The toll on behavioral health outcomes is compounded by the pandemic’s disruption to behavioral health services. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 65% of behavioral health organizations have had to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients, even as organizations see a dramatic increase in the demand for services.2,3 Moreover, treatment facilities and harm reduction programs across the country have scaled back services or closed entirely due to social distancing requirements, insufficient personal protective equipment, budget shortfalls, and other challenges.4 These disruptions in access to care and service delivery are having a severe impact.

Several studies indicate that patients report new barriers to care or changes in treatment and support services after the onset of the pandemic.5, 6 Barriers to care are particularly disruptive for people with substance use disorders. Social isolation and mental illness, coupled with limited treatment options and harm reduction services, creates a higher risk of suicide ideation, substance misuse, and overdose deaths.

For example, the opioid epidemic was still surging when the pandemic began, and rates of overdose have since spiked or elevated in every state across the country.7 After a decline of overdose deaths in 2018 for the first time in two decades, the CDC reported 81,230 overdose deaths from June 2019 to May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.8 

These trends do not appear to be improving. On October 3, the CDC reported that from March 2020 to March 2021, overdose deaths have increased 29.6% compared to the previous year, and that number will only continue to climb as more data comes in.9  

As the country continues to experience an increase in mental illness, suicide, and substance use disorders, states are in need of capacity and support to identify and/or implement strategies to mitigate these challenges. 

Solutions for state agencies

Behavioral health has been recognized as a priority issue and service area that will require significant resources and innovation. In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra reestablished the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to facilitate collaborative, innovative, transparent, equitable, and action-oriented approaches to address the HHS behavioral health agenda. The 2022 budget allocates $1.6 billion to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, which is more than double the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding and $3.9 billion more than in FY 2020, to address the opioid epidemic in addition to other substance use disorders.10 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate behavioral health issues, states need innovative solutions to take on these challenges and leverage additional federal funding. COVID-19 is still consuming the time of many state leaders and staff, so states have a limited capacity to plan, implement, and manage the new initiatives to adequately address these issues. Here are three ways health departments can capitalize on the additional funding.

Conduct a needs assessment to identify opportunities to improve use of data and program outcomes

Despite meeting baseline reporting requirements, state agencies often lack sufficient quality data to assess program outcomes, identify underserved populations, and obtain a holistic view of the comprehensive system of care for behavioral health services. Although state agencies may be able to recognize challenges in the delivery or administration of behavioral health services, it can be difficult to identify solutions that result in sustained improvements.

By performing a structured needs assessment, health departments can evaluate their processes, systems, and resources to better understand how they are using data, and how to optimize programs to tailor behavioral health services and promote better health outcomes and a more equitable distribution of care. This analysis provides the insight for agencies to understand not only the strengths and challenges of the current environment, but also the desires and opportunities for a future solution that takes into account stakeholder needs, best practice, and emerging technologies. 

Some of the benefits we have seen our clients enjoy as a result of performing a needs assessment include: 

  • Discovering and validating strengths and challenges of current state operations through independent evaluation
  • Establishing a clear roadmap for future business and technological improvements
  • Determining costs and benefits of new, alternative, or enhanced systems and/or processes
  • Identifying the specific business and technical requirements to achieve and improve performance outcomes 

Timely, accurate, and comprehensive data is critical to improving behavioral health outcomes, and the information gathered during a needs assessment can inform further activities that support programmatic improvements. Further activities might include conducting a fit-gap analysis, performing business process redesign, establishing a prioritization matrix, and more. By identifying the greatest needs and implementing plans to address them, state agencies can better handle the impact on behavioral health services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and serve individuals with mental health or substance use disorders more efficiently and effectively.

Redesign processes to improve how individuals access treatment and services

Despite the availability of behavioral health services, inefficient business and technical processes can delay and frustrate individuals seeking care and in some cases, make them stop seeking care altogether. With limited resources and increasing demands, behavioral health agencies should analyze and redesign work flows to maximize efficiency, security, and efficacy. Here are a few examples of process improvements states can achieve through process redesign:

  • Streamlined data processes to reduce duplicative data entry 
  • Automated and aligned manual data collection processes 
  • Integrated siloed health information systems
  • Focused activities to maximize staff strengths
  • Increased process transparency to improve communication and collaboration 

By placing the consumer experience at the core of all services, state health departments can redesign business and technical processes to optimize the continuum of care. A comprehensive approach takes into account all aspects that contribute to the delivery of behavioral health services, including both administrative and financial processes. This helps ensure interconnected activities continue to be performed efficiently and effectively. Such improvements help consumers with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance use disorder) and/or developmental disorders find “no wrong door” when seeking care. 

Establish a strategic plan of action to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

With the influx of available dollars resulting from the American Recovery Plan Act and other state and federal investments, health departments have a unique opportunity to fund specific initiatives to enhance the delivery and administration of behavioral health services. Understanding how to allocate the millions of newly awarded dollars in an impactful and sustainable way can be challenging. Furthermore, the additional reporting and compliance requirements linked to the funding can be difficult to navigate in addition to current monitoring obligations. 

The best way to begin using the available funding is to develop and implement strategic plans that optimize funds for behavioral health programs and services. You can establish priorities and identify sustainable solutions that build capacity, streamline operations, and promote the equitable distribution of care across populations. A few of the activities state health departments have undertaken resulting from the strategic planning initiatives include: 

  • Modernizing IT systems, including data management solutions and Electronic Health Records systems to support inpatient, outpatient, and community mental health and substance use programs 
  • Promoting organizational change management 
  • Establishing grant programs for community-driven solutions to promote health equity for the underserved population
  • Organizing, managing, and/or supporting stakeholder engagement efforts to effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders for a strong and comprehensive approach

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder were areas of concern prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made these issues worse, while adding more administrative challenges. State health departments have had to redirect their existing staff to work to address COVID-19, leaving a limited capacity to manage existing state-level programs and little to no capacity to plan and implement new initiatives. 

The federal administration and HHS are working to provide financial support to states to work to address these exacerbated health concerns; however, with the limited state capacity, states need additional support to plan, implement, and/or manage new initiatives. BerryDunn has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in conducting needs assessments, redesigning processes, and establishing strategic plans that are aimed at amplifying the impact of state programs. Contact our behavioral health consulting team to learn more about how we can help. 

Sources:
Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
National Council for Behavioral Health Polling Presentation, thenationalcouncil.org
The Impact of COVID-19 on Syringe Services Programs in the United States, nih.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
COVID-19-Related Treatment Service Disruptions Among People with Single- and Polysubstance Use Concerns, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Issue Brief: Nation’s Drug-Related Overdose and Death Epidemic Continues to Worsen, American Medical Association
Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, CDC.gov
10 Fiscal Year 2022 Budget in Brief: Strengthening Health and Opportunity for All Americans, HHS.gov

Article
COVID's impact on behavioral health: Solutions for state agencies

Read this if you used COVID-19 relief funds to pay essential workers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Acts allowed states and local governments to use COVID-19 relief funds to provide premium pay to essential workers. Many states took advantage of this opportunity, giving stipends or hourly rate increases to government and other frontline employees who worked during the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, teachers, correctional officers, and police officers.

States’ initial focus was to get the money to the essential workers as quickly as possible, but these decisions may cause them to be out of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. As a result, states should review how the funds were disbursed and if payroll adjustments are necessary. The amount, form, and recipients of the pay varied widely from state to state, making determining whether states are compliant with FLSA and calculating any discrepancies an immensely complex task. 

For example, states that disbursed one-time payments to essential workers will likely be able to treat those payments like standard one-time bonuses, while recurring stipends or hourly rate increases should be included in employee’s regular rate when calculating overtime pay. Because this is an unprecedented situation for both states and the federal government, clear guidance is not yet available from the Department of Labor. 

Fortunately, BerryDunn is already working with clients to review their use of the COVID-19 relief funds to help ensure essential workers were paid fairly. Our team is qualified to guide you through your unique situation and help you remain in compliance with FLSA guidelines.

If you have questions about your particular circumstances, please call our Compliance and Risk Management consulting team. We are here to help and happy to discuss options to pay for these services using federal funds.

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Was your COVID-19 essential worker hazard pay FLSA-compliant?

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.

With stream-lined applications, online portals, text updates, and one-stop offices serving programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and Child Welfare, states are rapidly adopting integrated systems serving multiple programs. As state leaders collaborate on system design and functionality to meet federal and state requirements, it is equally important to create a human-centered design built for the whole family.

We know families are comprised of a variety of people with various levels of need, and blended families ranging from grandparents to infants may qualify for a variety of programs. We may connect with families who are on Medicaid, aged and disabled or SNAP, but also have cases within child support or with child welfare. 

If your state is considering updating a current system, or procuring for an innovative design, there are key strategies and concepts to consider when creating a fully integrated system for our most vulnerable populations. Below are a few advantages for building a human-centric system:

  • The sharing of demographic, contact, and financial information reduces duplication and improves communication between state entities and families seeking services
  • Improvement of business services and expedited eligibility determinations, as a human-centric model gathers information upfront to reduce a stream of verification requests
  • The cost of ownership decreases when multiple programs share design costs
  • Client portals and services align as a family-focused model

Collaboration and integrated design

How many states use a separate application for Medicaid and SNAP? More specifically, is the application process time consuming? Is the same information requested over and over for each program? 

How efficient (and wonderful) would it be for clients to complete task-based questions, and then each program could review the information separately for case-based eligibility? How can you design an integrated system that aligns with business and federal rules, and state policy?

Once your state has decided a human-centered design would be most beneficial, you can narrow your focus—whether you are already in the RFP process, or within requirements sessions. You can stop extraneous efforts, and change your perspective by asking the question: How can we build this for the entire family? The first step is to see beyond your specific program requirements and consider the families each program serves. 

Integrated design is usually most successful when leaders and subject matter experts from multiple programs can collaborate. If all personnel are engaged in an overarching vision of building a system for the family, the integrated design can be fundamentally successful, and transforming for your entire work environment across agencies and departments.

Begin with combining leadership and subject matter experts from each geographic region. Families in the far corners of our states may have unique needs or challenges only experts from those areas know about. These collaborative sessions provide streamlined communications and ideas, and empower staff to become actively involved and invested in an integrated system design. 

Next, delve into the core information required from each family member and utilize a checklist to determine if the information meets the requirements of the individual programs. Finally, decide which specific data can streamline across programs for benefit determinations. For example, name, address, age, employment, income, disability status, and family composition are standard pieces of information. However, two or more programs may also require documentation on housing, motor vehicle, or retirement accounts.

Maintaining your focus on the families you serve

When designing an integrated system, it is easy to lose focus on the family and return to program-specific requirements. Your leaders and subject matter experts know what their individual programs need, which can lead to debates over final decisions regarding design. It is perfectly normal to develop tunnel vision regarding our programs because we want to meet regulations and maintain funding.

Below are recommendations for maintaining your focus on building for the family, which can start as soon as the RFP. 

  • Emphasize RFP team accountability
    • Everyone should share an array of family household examples who benefit from the various programs (Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, etc.), to help determine how to deliver a full spectrum of services. 
    • Challenge each program with writing their program-specific sections of the RFP and have one person combine the responses for a review session.
  • If the integrated system design is in the requirements phase, brainstorm scenarios, like the benefit example provided in recommendation number one. When information is required by one program, but not another, can the team collaborate and include the information knowing it could benefit an entire family?
  • When considering required tasks, and special requests, always ask: Will this request/change/enhancement help a family, or help staff assist a family?
  • Consider a universal approach to case management. Can staff be cross trained to support multiple programs to reduce transferring clients to additional staff?

We understand adopting a human-centered design can be a challenging approach, but there are options and approaches to help you through the process. Just continue to ask yourself, when it comes to an integrated approach, are you building the system for the program or for the family?

Article
Integrated design and development for state agencies: Building for the family

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

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

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

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

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

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

Significant achievements of the past two years

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

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

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

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

Inspiration to continue moving forward

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

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

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

Article
MESC 2021 reflections 

Read this if you work in an alcohol control capacity for state government.

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the alcoholic beverage industry significantly over the last 14 months. Restrictions forced people to stay at home, limiting their travel to restaurants, bars, and even some stores to purchase their favorite spirits. In at least 32 states, new legislation allowed consumers the option to buy to-go cocktails as a way to help these establishments stay in business. As a result, consumers took advantage of alcohol delivery services. 

There were two large shifts in consumer purchasing for the alcoholic beverage industry in 2020. The first was a shift from on-premise to off-premise purchasing (for example, more takeaway beverages from bars, breweries, and other establishments). The second was the explosion of e-commerce sales for curbside pickup and home delivery. A study by IWSR, an alcoholic beverage market research firm, stated that alcohol e-commerce sales grew 42% in 2020. The head of consumer insights for the online alcoholic beverage delivery service, Drizly, attributes this growth to the “increased consumer awareness of alcohol delivery as a legal option, as well as an overall shift in consumer purchasing behavior toward online ordering and delivery”. 

How state agencies responded

The move to an e-commerce model has impacted state agencies who regulate the distribution and/or sale of alcohol. States such as Oklahoma, Alabama, and Georgia recently passed legislation allowing alcohol delivery to consumers’ homes. In alcoholic beverage control states, where the state controls the sale of alcohol at the wholesale level, curbside pickup programs (New Hampshire) were implemented, while others started online home delivery services (Pennsylvania). 

In a fluid legislative environment, states agencies are working to meet consumer needs in a very competitive marketplace, while fulfilling their regulatory obligation to the health and safety of their constituents.

How alcoholic beverage control states can adapt

Now is an opportune time for control state agencies to keep pace with consumer demand for more flexible purchasing options, such as buying online with home delivery, or some form of curbside and/or in-store pickup programs. Every one of the 17 alcoholic beverage control states has passed legislation to allow the delivery of either beer, wine, and/or distilled spirits in some form, with some limitations.

While for some the COVID-19 outbreak has necessitated these more distant shopping experiences, the option of these sales channels has brought consumers flexibility they will expect going forward. This calls for control state agencies to act on this changing consumer demand. By prioritizing investing in and taking ownership of new sales channels, such as e-commerce and curbside pickup, control state agencies’ technology and logistics teams can develop strategies and tools to effectively adapt to this new demand. 

Adapting technology and logistics

Through technology, control state agencies can take advantage of e-commerce and curbside pickup sales channels, to drive more revenue. We recommend control states consider the following: 

Define the current capabilities to support an online sales strategy

An important first step is to define how to address constituents’ evolving needs as compared to the current e-commerce capabilities control state agencies can support. Considerations include:

  • Are current staff capable of developing and supporting new website capabilities to meet the increased demand on the website?  
  • How will the current customer support team(s) expand to support concerns from the new channels?
  • How will new e-commerce order volume be fulfilled for home delivery (including order errors, breakage, returns, etc.)?   

Control state agencies should complete current and future state assessments in each area above to confirm what capabilities they have today and which they would like to have in the future; which will allow for an accurate gap analysis and comparison to their future state needs. Once the current state assessment, future state strategy, and gap analysis are complete, control state agencies can define the projects required to support the future state requirements. 

Reevaluate existing fulfillment, inventory, and distribution processes

Each control state has existing product fulfillment, inventory and distribution processes, and information technology (IT) tools for delivering alcohol, to their own or licensed retail stores and businesses. These current processes and IT systems should be assessed as part of the current state capabilities assessment mentioned above, to help define the level of change needed to support the control state agency’s future needs in the e-commerce channel. Key assessment questions control state agencies should ask themselves include: 

  • Can the current IT systems (e.g., inventory management, customer relationship management [CRM], customer support/call center, financial, point of sale [POS], and website infrastructure) support required upgrades?
  • Can retail teams and today’s infrastructure support order taking, inventory, fulfillment, and buy online pickup in store programs?
  • How will warehouse and retail stores track and manage the e-commerce shipments and returns related to this channel?
  • If home delivery is part of the strategy, define how the delivery logistics will be met through state or vendor resources.
  • What staffing model and skill sets will support future business needs?
  • What is the total cost of ownership for these new e-commerce capabilities so that the short and long-term costs and profits can be accurately estimated? 

The answers to these questions will help to inform a future e-commerce strategy and accommodate the cost and staff impacts. 

Bring in online retail expertise

It is important to ensure that the control state agency has website and mobile capabilities to support today’s consumer needs. This includes the ability to order a wide range of products online for either home delivery or buy online pickup in store. The design of the website and mobile transactional capabilities is critically important to the success of this channel, the true growth in revenues. Being marketing focused (e.g., allowing consumers to view and order products, save items for later, and see similar products) will help drive traffic and sales on this upgraded channel. 

For control state agencies with a more static product website, consider purchasing a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) e-commerce product with existing retail-focused website features, or contract with a vendor to build a website that meets more unique needs. The control state agency should bring in at least one online retail subject matter expert vendor to help set the direction, design the upgrades or new site, manage the project(s) needed to implement the online capabilities, and potentially manage the operational support of the website and mobile solution.

BerryDunn provides state alcoholic beverage control boards and commissions with many services along the IT system acquisition lifecycle, including planning, needs assessment, business process analysis, request for proposal (RFP) development, requirements development, technology contract development, and project management services. 

For the full list of steps to consider and to learn more about how you can successfully position your control state agency to adapt to the changing alcoholic beverage landscape, contact us.
 

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COVID-19 and the e-commerce explosion

Read this if you are at a state Medicaid agency.

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

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

What’s next?

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

Waivers

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

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

Funding

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

State considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coordinating initiatives across state HHS: Questions to ask