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Department of Human Services’ work to improve procedures are ongoing

Efforts to improve the Department of Human Services’ procedures and processes have proven successful so far, but officials say the work is far from done.

“What we’re working to do first is establish a culture of process control – crossing t’s and dotting i’s,” Commissioner Jodi Harpstead told the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday. “Certainly, being supportive of Minnesotans and their needs, but also making sure that we take very, very good care of the dollars that are sent to us.”

This ongoing work started with the implementation of Harpstead’s 90-day plan in 2019, which focused on rebuilding trust in the department after a range of problems, including $103.3 million in errors requiring repayment to the federal government.

The department has since paid that money back, and is currently pursuing administrative means – including an administrative law review process, and meetings with counties to discuss long-term payment plans – to cover the cost of those overpayments.

However, some legislators are proposing bills that would handle the issue legislatively, Harpstead said. These include HF111, sponsored by Rep. Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth), which has yet to receive a hearing and would appropriate money from the General Fund to reimburse counties and tribes for those costs.

Over the course of 2020, a range of process controls were put into place including:

  • the centralization of financial and compliance functions;
  • working with The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to claim $74 million in drug rebates from pharmaceutical companies;
  • establishing “Process Control Champions” in different divisions to ensure consistent adherence to policies;
  • applying improved procedures to the wavier approval process during the department’s COVID-19 pandemic response; and
  • beginning work to pilot additional process improvements in the Behavioral Health Division that could be applied to other areas if they prove effective in 2021.

The department is awaiting final results of “Operation Swiss Watch,” which brought in consultants to conduct a “thorough and exhaustive” review of current processes. Those recommendations are expected in the next few months, according to Harpstead’s presentation.

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