Gov. Gina Raimondo appointed Eric J. Beane as R.I. Secretary of Health and Human Services in May. Beane had served as acting DHS director since January and led the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, known as UHIP, turnaround effort. He has also served as chief operating officer for Raimondo.
As Raimondo’s deputy chief of staff, Beane helped develop her policy agenda on public health, public safety, and energy and environmental issues. He was instrumental in the creation of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, Cybersecurity Commission and the Overdose Prevention & Intervention Task Force. Beane, a resident of Providence, spoke to Providence Business News about his current position.
PNB: You had been taking point on the UHIP turnaround prior to taking the job. Did anything about how you were able to supervise the effort to fix the system change? What was the most striking thing about the system’s issues that you observed?
BEANE: On Feb. 15, I released an assessment of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project that concluded that the state did not receive a complete and functional system, negatively impacting our ability to distribute timely and accurate public benefits to clients. The assessment included a short-term action plan to begin improving the experience for the clients, staff and providers affected by the system.
Our customer service metrics are moving in the right direction, and we are tackling the remaining issues with urgency and commitment every day. We learned that for major IT [information technology] projects, the state should not rely too heavily on outside vendors and that employees and community partners need to have a strong voice at every stage of the process.
PBN: What’s the current big task involved in fixing the UHIP system?
BEANE: We continue to work collaboratively with our partners at the federal level and across the state to resolve issues and deliver the services Rhode Islanders deserve. We are grateful in particular for the partnership of our community’s social service agencies as we do this work. These groups have played a critical role in our turnaround effort, sharing their concerns and offering helpful solutions.
Issues remain, particularly for our Medicaid long-term care providers and customers. We also continue to hold our vendor, Deloitte, accountable. We manage them closely to make sure they are delivering the system the state was promised.
PBN: What’s your next most pressing priority?
BEANE: We are facing a difficult and changing health care landscape, so we remain laser-focused on our top priorities, including access to care. Rhode Island has been a leader in modernizing the way people access health coverage and in innovating across our health care system to pay for better outcomes and quality. The Obama administration recognized these successes and partnered with us so we could leverage $130 million in federal funds to further our efforts to transform the state’s health care system by driving reforms to ensure that all of us are spending our dollars wisely on high-quality care.
Addressing the addiction and overdose crisis is one of our most urgent priorities. Addiction is a disease and affects every Rhode Island community. With Gov. Raimondo’s leadership, the overdose crisis has led to unprecedented collaboration between state health officials, prescribers, insurers, health advocates and the family members of overdose victims. Our focus is getting people into treatment and saving lives. Treatment for opioid addiction works, and long-term recovery is possible.
PBN: What is R.I. doing with its ACA [Affordable Care Act] funds that other states are not where child health insurance is concerned? Is R.I. simply lucky to have fewer kids in need due to its size, or does the state have an edge on the others?
BEANE: For more than two decades, Rhode Island has partnered with and supported trusted community resources to reach parents and make sure as many children as possible are covered. Our community partners – Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, United Way, the Rhode Island Parent Information Network, Economic Progress Institute and others – have been instrumental in this effort.
We are a true example of how states can find innovative ways to manage costs while assuring access to care. We have the third-highest insured rate for children and we lead the nation in adolescent immunizations. Recently, we were ranked fourth in the nation for overall health system performance by the Commonwealth Fund.
Access to high-quality health insurance yields better health outcomes for children. More than half of our state’s children are covered by Medicaid, and so it’s great news that recently three health plans with a Medicaid presence in Rhode Island (Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, Tufts Health Plan and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan) have all received high ratings from the National Committee for Quality Assurance.
PBN: What are your thoughts on the Washington Post’s article about the economic dependence in R.I., specifically Woonsocket, on SNAP benefits? In a recent PBN article, [Rhode Island Community] Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff said returning the state’s annual contribution to $350,000 would address many of their challenges – what has prompted the decrease, and can that be reversed?
BEANE: For the last decade, the General Assembly has approved a budget that includes a contribution to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Each year the state is faced with difficult choices regarding financial allocations.
To put this in the broader context, our country – as a whole — underinvests in human services, as compared to other nations. In developed countries, for every $1 spent on health care, about $2 is spent on social services. In the U.S., for every $1 spent on health care, about 55 cents is spent on social services.
Health is not an isolated issue. The choices we make have a profound impact on all of the other outcomes we care about – improving our communities and families, helping children succeed in school and making sure that everyone has opportunities for success regardless of the socioeconomic class they were born into.
There is a path forward. We must continue to think strategically about our policies and invest in early intervention and prevention, and address the social determinants of health. Together, we can achieve better outcomes as a state.
Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowksi@PBN.com.