Monday, April 28, 2008

What's not in the DDS Report, Controlling Regional Center Costs, Part II

Another cost-saving, service improving fantasy of mine is the idea of outcome- rather than cost-based payments.  The idea is similar to Self-Directed Services but would be more appropriate for those clients less able to manage their own programs.  The idea is that specific outcomes can be priced based on the difficulty of reaching them and a general idea of the individual's special challenges.  This method can improve services and reduce costs to the extent that:

1) The objective is clearly defined and observable.  "Adolph will maintain optimum health" or "Joanna will be happy in his home" are not the quality of IPP goals that work best for this.
2) There is sufficient information, honestly (!) brokered on behaviors and other non-obvious challenges to be overcome.
3) Clients do not reach their own objectives currently because the system's incentives are geared toward maintaining the status quo or, worse, letting crises develop.
4) The cost-based approach is absurd and inefficient, except as compared to the rate structure it generates.

Granted this is so different from what we do now, that lots of input would probably improve the suggestion, but the basic idea is that the objectives would be priced and agencies willing to undertake the job could be interviewed by the client.  An agency that delivered success for clients in a timely fashion would be overpaid according to current standards, while an agency that was unable to accomplish the client's goals would not be paid at all.  

There is a danger that clients who are hard to work with, have more audacious goals, or present greater risk will be hard to find support for at any price, so the method might never safely replace the current model for everyone.

What do y'all think?

**UPDATE** The scary smart friend I referred to in the earlier post emailed me to look up 4648(a)7 in the Lanterman Act in reference to this post.  It reads:
(7) No service or support provided by any agency or individual
shall be continued unless the consumer or, where appropriate, his or
her parents, legal guardian, or conservator, or authorized
representative, including those appointed pursuant to subdivision (d)
of Section 4548 or subdivision (e) of Section 4705, is satisfied and
the regional center and the consumer or, when appropriate, the
person's parents or legal guardian or conservator agree that planned
services and supports have been provided, and reasonable progress
toward objectives have been made.
I think a lot of things about this line of code are interesting, both in light of this post and also in light of the requirements that no service can be discontinued without the agreement of the client or the opportunity to appeal. A tension between two statutory requirements, resolved through universal noncompliance.  But to the point at hand, I'd say that discontinuing services that produce no results is a good way of involving some little bit of natural selection into the process (in other words, a well-conceived ignored statute,) but you can improve on that by allowing agencies that achieve results more efficiently to capture some of the benefit of success.  This is likely the only way that excellent workers will ever be paid significantly better than indifferent personnel.

Monday, April 14, 2008

What's not in the DDS Report, Controlling Regional Center Costs, Part I

OK, first of all, my purpose in adding this post is not to cut off commentary in the post below. Feel free to read and comment on either (or neither.) But I am in the mood to expand on my own snarky comment regarding socialism. Here is the first of some ideas I would have added to the DDS report had it been my honor to write it. This will be the first in a series of one or more proposals to control regional center costs and improve service through deregulation.

Eliminate vendor codes: Whatever the intention of the vendor codes, the principle functional purpose they rightly serve is to limit the breadth of service a single provider can offer, lowering the quality of the services vendors provide. The (likely) unintended function is to foster service denials by implying, at least sometimes, false redundancies. This reduces the flexibility of Regional Centers. A tertiary function of the service code is to waste regional center operations budgets on distractive, unproductive idiocies which then discredit the notion that non-profit boards provide guidance.

Finally, vendor codes probably add administrative costs needlessly by requiring different needs to be met under separate administrative arrangements. For example, if a person receives job-coaching but also needs help budgeting, cleaning their apartment and socializing, that person will generally be helped by three different agencies or at least three separate divisions of one agency with separate staff for the employment assistance, living skills and social assistance. This means the state pays for the liability insurance three times, the administration three times and the training and recruitment three times at the vendor side and the quality assurance three times, the service coordination three times and the billing three times on the regional center side. (Plus all the unproductive time spent by core staff at regional centers trying to cleverly craft changes to the purchase of service policies and get them rubber-stamped by glassy-eyed board members.)  Meanwhile, the client gets possibly triple the number of people to work with and is at risk that some need will not be met due to limitations placed on the vendor categories.

The vendor codes help the regulations to address specific service designs that address specific needs specifically but there are two reasons this might not actually be helpful. First, if you read the service standards portion of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, Title XVII - Division 2, Chapter 3 which defines the service codes and cross out all the regulations that are not typically monitored or enforced, too vague to provide clear guidance or that essentially self-repeal (cf section 56742 (a)(3-4)) you might easily be left with nothing but paragraph numbers and the vendor codes themselves anyway. The second reason this might not be important is that it is a fundamentally agency-centered approach and directly contrary to the person-centered approach we pretty much all claim is holiest and most efficient. (Note: This last point is the commonest hypocrisy in our system and your correspondent is usually guilty of it before swallowing the lees in his first cup of coffee.)

(Anecdote warning) My biggest regret from all my time in this field is this: Once upon a time, when I had done this work for about a year, a man who gave his name as Michael called and said he wanted to hire ¡Arriba! using his own money because he was living in a group home and the "independent living training" he got from the home wasn't helping him to move out (!) on his own. He said he had asked for ILS training from Lanterman Regional Center and been told that ILS services were not available to people who live in group homes because the group homes were supposed to provide that help. The thought of letting a client pay privately for services the regional center center should have provided was appalling but I have regretted ever since not asking his full name or offering help to get ILS into his IPP. This anecdote serves two purposes in this post: The first is as a caution that sometimes it can be a very good idea to have more than one agency provide services to the same individual, such as when there's a conflict in interest like expecting a residential facility to help an individual move out. Second, that while I sadly do not know the details of this case and there may have been logic to the regional center decision, it is not hard to imagine a case where a situation far better for an individual and far less costly to the State was foiled by a policy defined in terms of vendor code. Can anyone imagine a case where needless expenditures are reduced or client value added through categorizing services?

Advantages/Disadvantages: Advantages of this option include (1) Cost-savings through reduction of unnecessary administration, (2) improving the flexibility of service providers including regional centers and their vendors to be of use to clients, (3) simplifying the regulations, (4) a key step toward value-based rather than cost-based budgeting, (5) a person-centered approach to service design, coordination and implementation and (6) reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Disadvantages include (1) costs related to retraining senior management at several regional centers to do something productive or replacing same, (2) creepy feeling that once-reliable service boundaries are giving way to free love and poetry slams, (3) priestly positions lost, some unionized and (4) loss of scale economies related to optimum use of the boards' rubber-stamps.

Total Savings: Indeterminate.

Hey, look, the DDS folks get paid to do this. You have to admit, though, green for advantages and red for disadvantages was inspired.

**UPDATE:  A good friend who is also scary smart just emailed that CMS requires service codes for the waiver, which is either a deal-breaker or a proposal-changer, depending on A) what level of definition CMS regulations require of the service code and B) how the service codes are required to be applied.  California defines programs by service code, but if CMS does not require that it may be possible to code for instance, activities or needs rather than programs after the fact.  This was how hospital billing was often done back when I knew about hospital billing.  Also, depending on CMS' definition of service code, it may be possible at least to broaden the definition to achieve some of the goals in this proposal.  For example if there were one service code for housing and supervision, one for medical supplies, one for each regulated professional service and one for all others including SLS, day programs, ILS, supported employment, respite, social/recreational, waste, fraud and abuse.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Controlling Regional Center Costs.

The California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has produced a document entitled "Controlling Regional Center Costs."  (You can click on the title of this post to download it or read it in your browser.)  To my eye, the document is very carefully written not to give license for foolish cuts.  Once you have read most of the proposals contained you would have to be as dumb as box of rocks to consider smart.  Also, for those in the panicky state of fretting that this report represents an assault on the entitlement or a murderous conspiracy, it ought to be noted that some of the most favorably described cost control measures are preventive, such as investments in better dental care, expanding employment and affordable housing.  I would give some laud and honor to the writers for careful wording. 

This may be the first of a series of posts on this report, the next likely to deal with selected proposals but start with two questions:

Given the past experience of DDS reports and their influence on policy-making, is it likelier that advocates will pay too little or too much attention to this?  The Service Delivery Reform report opened few doors in Sacramento but it has held a lot of doors open.

Why is socialism the only answer to reduce government spending?  An ongoing frustration of mine is that all the virtues of the Lanterman Act as a mechanism for efficient, responsive care depends on innovation, creativity, liberty and choice.  It continues to depress me that centrally defining, regulating and limiting what can be done is always the response of government, and frankly, of most of our advocates.   We love to talk about innovation and creativity, never more than when we find some new way to instruct our neighbor.

And, friend Paul, I promise that none of the posts regarding this document, if there are more, will discuss or promote funding as a purpose or point.  That's not what I do here, and really isn't what I do in Sacramento either.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


One of the perpetual issues in the system is that of leadership development and the good friend who scolds me behind the scenes when I go long between posts has this issue often on his mind.  So, good friend, here is a post in which we can discuss leadership.  

Leadership is one of those things we mostly all yearn for but, like other nearly-universal human hungers, we may disagree on what kind of monkey we want to be satisfied by.  In a system in which power, control and sovereignty are the largest common currency, leadership generally may even be dangerous.  I suspect some would say we don't produce enough leaders to meet demand and Tom Pomerantz' touring schedule supports that position.  Others argue that we are producing plenty of leaders in the form of plain-spoken clients and uncomfortably empowered family members (cf. Stanley) but that these leaders are A) Too locally focused and personally interested to lead in harmony; B) Not listened to; and/or C) adorable but hardly authoritative.

If you all are waiting for me to say something smart about leadership, that had also been my hope but I think I'd best turn the floor over.  Here are some questions:

1.  Do we need more leaders?
2.  Can we develop leaders without indoctrinating them?  And if not is it leadership we're developing?
3.  Do you agree with Voltaire who is often quoted saying he would rather obey one lion than 200 rats?
4.  If herding cats is the paragon of leadership in chaos, what is being herded by a herd of cats the paragon of?