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

By: Nicolle Field, Marnie Hudson,

Mary Corley has worked with Medicaid fiscal agent services for almost 30 years as a claims supervisor, documentation specialist, business analyst, and contract compliance analyst. She has more than 25 years of experience in all aspects of the RFP process including go/no-go analysis, content development, including managing all written content  from multiple team members and compiling into one document, proofreading, formatting, and production/delivery.

Mary Corley,

Julie Allen is a CPA and PMP with a Master’s degree in Public Administration. She served over 25 years in state government, leading organizational and policy changes to provide effective and efficient services and partnering with information technology for system solutions. During her tenure in state government, she oversaw and participated in RFP development including business analysis, content development, criteria evaluation development, and the award process.

As a Senior Consultant in the Medicaid field, she provides project management oversight, and enterprise-related services such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) certification, RFP development, and training.

Julie Allen,

Misha Mosher is an experienced legal professional with proven project management, research, and analysis skills. She brings knowledge of the legal industry, trade publications, government regulations, procurement, intellectual property, technology licensing, privacy and security, and risk management.

Misha Mosher
10.09.20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Outcomes and APD considerations

Read this if you 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 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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People and processes: Planning health and human services IT systems modernization to improve 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 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 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.
 

Article
Coordinating initiatives across state HHS: Questions to ask

Read this if you are a division of motor vehicles, or interested in mDLs.

What is a mobile driver’s license?

A mobile driver’s license (mDL) is a solution that allows citizens to access, update, and use their driver’s license via a smart phone or other internet-accessible device (e.g., laptop, tablet, smart watch). An mDL is a form of electronic identification (eID), but where eIDs include other forms of licensure like hunting/fishing/gaming licenses or military IDs, mDLs are used to designate driving privileges and, in some cases, to designate age-based/identity privileges for citizens who cannot drive (e.g., buying alcohol, TSA PreCheck®).

Why should you care?

Technology has replaced physical product functionality within various areas of modern life. Many people have transitioned to electronic credit/debit card payments (e.g., Apple Pay), making paying for everyday items faster, easier, and cleaner, while also introducing risks to consumer data security. Similar functionality will soon exist within the eID space, starting with mDLs. This provides challenges for departments of motor vehicles (DMVs), businesses, and consumers; however, the benefits of adopting mDL functionality outweigh the growing pains of establishing the programs.

How does it work and when will it be implemented?

The mDL will function similarly to electronic credit cards and mobile payment applications: an mDL user loads their mDL to their mobile device using a mobile application and can use it to verify their age and driving credentials at mDL-reading establishments and with law enforcement. Relevant establishments will require both hardware and software solutions to read mDLs. 

mDLs aren’t intended to replace physical licenses—at least not yet. While state and county pilot programs resolve some of the challenges associated with mDLs, physical IDs will remain required for years to come. 

Additionally, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) created two groups—a Card Design Standard Committee and Electronic Identification Working Group—to develop interoperable standards to assist license issuing authorities (e.g., DMVs) in developing their mDL programs. These standards will ensure that mDLs work using different hardware, software, vendor applications, and within different jurisdictions. 

Benefits and challenges

Benefits

mDLs provide numerous benefits to citizens and DMVs alike, including information security, user convenience, and administrative convenience.

Information security

  • mDLs are harder to fake than physical driver’s licenses due to the mDL’s connection to back-end license data within the DMV system. 

  • mDLs allow users the option to communicate specific data to the receiving party without sharing all of the user’s license information (e.g., confirming the user is over age 21 without sharing their specific age or street address). 

User convenience

  • Users will be able to update their credentials fully online and see in-real-time updates.
  • mDLs will possess single sign-on verification and use for users via a biometric lock or PIN, making them quick to access and easy to use.

Administrative convenience

  • The decline in DMV wait times due to online-update functionality will save DMVs money in administrative costs.

Challenges

As with all technological advancement, there are several challenges around the development of mDLs. The primary challenge is ensuring the protection of user data while also rolling out the complex—and often costly—infrastructure needed to support mDL use across a region. 

Information security 

  • Issuing agencies can choose whether some, none, or all mDL user data is stored on the user’s device and must ensure all data stored this way is done so securely.

  • mDLs must ensure hands-free exchange of information with law enforcement to protect user data when presenting identification.

  • Technological errors are bound to occur: if an mDL-reading establishment is not able to read a citizen's mDL for any reason, a citizen will require a physical license to complete the transaction.

Program rollout

  • States and mDL vendors will need to support interoperable mDL standards to ensure that an mDL works with different vendor software and across jurisdictions.

  • Establishments and law enforcement will need the necessary mDL-reading hardware (smart phone, smart watch, tablet, laptop, point-of-sale terminal) and software (QR code readers, Bluetooth functionality, Wi-Fi Aware, Nearfield Communication, etc.) to read mDLs.

  • mDLs must be able to function in both offline and online scenarios to ensure the security of consumer data and proper functionality.

The future

mDLs are just the beginning of the opportunities eID technology will bring. Once established by DMVs, eID technology can and will be used to find and buy insurance services, check medical prescriptions, apply for social/welfare benefits, open hunting/fishing/gaming accounts and display appropriate credentials, and access pension information. 

The versatility that eID technology provides will streamline American citizens’ identification arsenal, and the advancing mDL technology puts us on the path to get there. The question is not will mDLs become widespread, but when.
 

Article
Introduction to mobile driver's licenses (mDLs): What are they and why are they important?