State Delays Major Tech Upgrades For AHS

Feb 4, 2016

The Shumlin administration is planning to scuttle existing plans for major technology upgrades that would centralize social services data for the Agency of Human Services. 

Administration officials say the work will still be done, but they are beginning the process anew using solutions developed in other states.

Administration officials say contract negotiations for work on Integrated Eligibility and some major work on the Medicaid Managed Information System (MMIS) Core are being stopped and revised requests for proposals will be issued. The decision came from AHS Secretary Hal Cohen and is supported by the governor’s office and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson.

“Since we released the Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS Core) and the Integrated Eligibility Solution (IE) RFPs, the approach to these solutions has evolved significantly allowing us to be more strategic in building solutions that meet the needs of Vermonters, providers and staff,” Cohen wrote in an email to staff Wednesday afternoon announcing the decision. “This is our opportunity to reset. For that reason, and after much consideration, I’ve made the decision to cancel the current procurement processes for the Design, Development, and Implementation of both MMIS Core and IE.”

Johnson said the projects will now be broken up and completed in smaller pieces.

“Bottom line is that after having a lot of internal discussions and speaking with our federal partners at CMS we have decided to regroup and change our strategy,” Johnson told the Vermont Press Bureau. “The RFP looked at a fairly comprehensive, large-scale project. We’re going to rethink that and do it in small chunks. As we know from research that’s been done … large projects tend to be more difficult to deliver. Rather than get ourselves into a situation where we can’t deliver … we’re going to break it down into smaller pieces, phase it in.”

"Bottom line is that after having a lot of internal discussions and speaking with our federal partners at CMS we have decided to regroup and change our strategy." - Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson

The state was in contract negotiations with a company called Wipro for work on Integrated Eligibility — a system for tracking Vermonters’ eligibility across a wide spectrum of social services and programs, including Medicaid. The state had yet to select a vendor for MMIS Core work, which will serve as the platform that supports other MMIS functions.

“These are contracts that could have been on the order of $100 million or more. The revised approach, we’ll likely be able to reduce the cost,” said Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The state will still complete the projects, Johnson said.

“We’re still absolutely committed to replacing the ACCESS system that we have that’s 35 years old, but we’re going to approach it in a different way,” he said. “We’re not going to reinvent the wheel and there’s a lot more wheels available to us.”

Before they were cancelled, the projects were behind schedule. The administration had hoped to begin contracted work on Integrated Eligibility in October 2014, and on MMIS in February 2015.

But technological challenges with Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace created under the federal Affordable Care Act, slowed progress. The systems were intended to all communicate and work together.

“It is primarily the opportunity to take advantage of existing systems, but it’s also true that these were delayed because of Vermont Health Connect,” Miller said. “The work that was done at Vermont Health Connect was supposed to be the foundation of those to go forward. The fact that Integrated Eligibility wasn’t ready to start meant that these developments out in the world had time to happen.”

The delay is not all bad, according to Miller. He said solutions created in other states can be used in Vermont, meaning less software development will be required.

“When CMS funds work they maintain a license to it and its transferable from state to state,” Miller said. “It’s an opportunity to reduce risk and cost and ultimately accelerate parts of the project as well.”

Officials within AHS plan to hold a series of meetings to determine the path forward.

“Over the next several weeks, the IE and MMIS Project Teams will be engaged in discussions regarding aligning our procurement approach and resource allocation with business and funding priorities,” Cohen wrote in his email.

Miller said key law lawmakers and the Joint Fiscal Office have been briefed on the administration’s plans.

This story was originally published by the Vermont Press Bureau and republished here under a partnership with the bureau.