Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2013 National WIC Association Conference in Dallas, Texas. It was literally the first conference I ever attended, so I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect. For those of you who aren’t familiar with WIC, it’s a supplemental USDA program for women, infant and children that provides things like health care referrals, nutrition education and assistance to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as kids who are found to have a nutritional risk. The equation presented above really boils down the program to its essential components. I’ll explain how momentarily.
Impressive Efficiency, Despite Complexities
I only had a cursory knowledge of the program going into the conference, but my first impression was that the individuals who manage it are very passionate about their work and the value it provides to its participants. As of 2011, WIC averaged almost 9 million participants per month nation-wide. From the many conversations I had not just with attendees, but also with some of the other vendors on the exhibit floor, I got a real sense that everyone was truly looking for ways to improve different areas of the program. More importantly, they also want to ensure their services benefit as many as possible – which is their ultimate goal. Like any system though, there are inefficiencies, particularly around the stores (known as vendors in the WIC world) that supply and sell WIC food package items like baby formula, juices and cereals. Surprisingly, those inefficiencies aren’t as rampant as some people might think when they think of a government program. Based on one of the sessions I attended, I learned that WIC actually operates at or above 96% efficiency with regards to the vendor reimbursements. Impressive considering the complexity involved.
Managing the Variables
It turns out that there are a number of facets of the WIC system, such as managing waiting lists, cost containment, electronic benefit transfers, food packages, fraud detection and vendor management, that would benefit from a business rules solution. I say “would” because currently these rules only exist as hard-coded logic in their existing systems. To add to the complexity, each state manages its own program, so there’s quite a bit of variation in how the rules that govern these various components are implemented from state to state. Large, state-run systems, multiple program functions, 50 states plus U.S. territories – sounds complex already, right? Now factor in the need to reassess, and possibly change, these rules every 3, 6, 12 or 36 months in order to ensure the integrity of the program lives up to its high standards, and now you get a really good idea of what the individuals who manage the system have to deal with. It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable. That’s where we believe we at InRule Technology can help out. By now, we are all well aware of the pervasiveness of rules across a variety of industries, and the WIC system offers yet another example. The WIC directors, managers and administrators all know their state’s rules. Their strength lies in that knowledge, so they really should be the ones actively managing them. By having that capability, the long-term benefits of reduced maintenance time and costs will provide them with the comfort of knowing their program can be flexible and responsive to those ever-changing rules.
Solving the Equation
The speaker for the vendor management session ended her presentation by showing the equation mentioned at the beginning of this post. The answer: Program Integrity + Vendor Cost Containment = WIC. Everyone in the audience nodded their heads in agreement. If the WIC systems can be configured in such a way that the program can maintain high standards while keeping the costs down, then the recipients – the women, infant and children who need their services – will benefit the most. And that’s what it’s all about. And that’s their formula for success.