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Jessica Kahn

Director, Data and Systems Group, U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Jessica Kahn
Medicaid management information systems — the state systems that pay claims and collect data for Medicaid services — have been called a perfect storm of potential failure. Jessica Kahn is on a mission to tame them.

Kahn heads the organization that certifies state MMIS deployments for federal matching funds, which pay as much as 90 percent of the cost of these projects. She’s determined to change how states implement MMIS, promoting a move from custom, big-bang development to a less risky alternative.

Change can’t come too soon. The price tag on MMIS projects ranges from $50 million to more than $150 million, making the systems one of the largest IT investments for states. These projects typically take years to complete, and they often stretch far longer than planned. A 2012 analysis released by Colorado said “21 of the last 21 MMIS implementation projects over the last 10 years have been late, over budget, failed or some combination thereof.”

Kahn advocates breaking massive traditional MMIS projects into pieces that can be completed one at a time, preferably using off-the-shelf products or even cloud-based services. The modular approach is intended to make MMIS easier to deploy and update, along with opening the door to new solutions that improve outcomes for Medicaid programs.

Kahn’s organization proposed new MMIS certification rules last year that support modularity, and it’s working with a group of states interested in trying the technique. Like any transformational change, the shift to modular MMIS won’t come easy. State Medicaid agencies will confront challenges around integration, change management, procurement and more. But if they can make the shift, taxpayers and Medicaid patients may feel a lot better.

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Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.