Mark Owens

Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, shown here speaking this year in the state Legislature,

A multimillion-dollar IT project for the North Dakota Department of Human Services successfully went live this week with the question now being how much it improves services for residents.

The Medicaid Management Information System project was up and running on Monday following a two-month transition period away from a more than 35-year-old system. The project went live after a series of delays and changes in scope.

“It’s a very big and very complex project," said Maggie Anderson, executive director of DHS. "Even though the project has been going on under contract for nine years, there was an incredible amount of work.”

During the course of the project, its budget increased from $62.5 million to more than $97.9 million. Of the total budget, about $85.5 million is from federal funds.

As of May 31, the most recent numbers available, approximately $66.4 million had been spent on the project, of which $58.3 million was federal dollars.

When the system went live Monday morning, “we celebrated for a few minutes then we got back to work," Anderson said.

Jenny Witham, IT Services director for DHS, previously said the delays in the program were the result of the vendor, Xerox, taking a long time designing and developing the system. Another delay was caused by changes in the project’s scope due to the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The first payment cycle under the new system was conducted successfully this week, Anderson said. Among other immediate tasks is to ensure data from the old system was correctly transferred as well as working with providers to answer questions and keeping operations running smoothly.

The new system is a lift for employees in terms of workload, said Anderson, explaining that keeping up with future changes to federal programs in the system will be an ongoing challenge.

“We believe the system will be able to accommodate those,” Anderson said.

How long it takes providers to get accustomed to the system depends upon how often they file claims with the state as well as whether they use paper or electronic filing, Anderson said.

Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the Interim Information Technology Committee, said an MMIS project update was on the committee’s agenda for its meeting last month, which went smoothly.

“Everything seemed status quo. I was expecting things to work out,” he said, adding that it was good to hear the project made the go-live date but he’s reserving judgment on how the system works longer term.

Owens expects fine-tuning over time. He said, with changes to federal law on Medicaid occurring annually, the big question will be how the new system handles being updated.

The IT Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet in early December, when Owens said a clearer picture of the project go-live can be provided.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)