State is ready for new MaineCare computer system

Posted Dec. 09, 2009, at 6:06 p.m.

The horror stories that go along with the installation of new computer systems are legion. Look no further than the FBI or California’s newest finance system to see how huge projects can have terrible trouble.

Maine has its own issues with large-scale computer transitions. The most notorious caused significant problems for the Department of Health and Human Services and providers who depend on the state for their businesses.

In early 2010, Maine will turn the page on that computer system when it switches to the Maine Integrated Health Management Solution System, or MIHMS. The new system will bring state-of-the-art claims processing and important data tools to the MaineCare system.

Many elements in MIHMS are required by the federal government, which has also provided about 90 percent of the funding for the $54.6 million project. But like any change of this nature, the transition has caused some folks who will rely on the new system to worry. Memories of the old system are fresh and participation in the new one requires a little effort upfront.

To continue to get paid, providers must enroll in the new system. As the Dec. 23 enrollment deadline approaches, there are still a number of providers who haven’t signed up.

Maine has been aggressive in reaching out to providers to keep them informed of the coming change. Efforts began in December 2008. Since then, DHHS has held 116 educational forums to explain how providers can participate. Payments have included reminders. And messages have been sent directly to current MaineCare providers, as well as included in provider newsletters.

In addition, an enrollment Web site was built that includes frequently asked questions and solutions to areas where providers have told us they need help. Before launching the enrollment web portal, nearly two-dozen providers were part of the testing environment and put the process through its paces. This group included every provider type that bills in MaineCare and based on what we learned, some updates were made and later retested before the launch.

At every turn, the department has looked for innovative ways to talk openly about the coming change and be proactive in helping providers participate. At this point, about 46 percent of providers have signed up for the system.

We are committed to helping our partners, who provide direct services to more than 280,000 Mainers.

While any transition of this size will see its share of problems, we are taking a personalized approach to help individual providers navigate enrollment. In some cases, that means regular telephone calls and ongoing support.

We are familiar with the plight of Paula Benson, who does the billing for her husband’s practice and has struggled with enrollment. Through hard work and a commitment to service, we have helped Benson overcome problems with enrollment and as of today, her husband’s practice is ready for the transition next year.

We appreciate the support of providers as we move forward with MIHMS. If you are a provider and have not yet enrolled, please go to https://mainecare.maine.gov to access the portal. For individual providers, the process could take as little as five minutes. Provider Relations staff is a phone call away at 1-800-321-5557, Option 8.

It’s no surprise that some people are skeptical of our ability to install a new billing and payment system. Past performance was not up to the level demanded by Gov. John Baldacci and expected by staff and our partners. But we have learned from the past.

We are taking great care — testing and retesting — to assure that when we go live with our new system, we will be successful.

Brenda M. Harvey is the commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

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