Translating Medicaid policy into practice: policy implementation strategies from three US states’ experiences enhancing substance use disorder treatment

Jan 06, 2022 | Crable

BACKGROUND: Despite the important upstream impact policy has on population health outcomes, few studies in implementation science in health have examined implementation processes and strategies used to translate state and federal policies into accessible services in the community. This study examines the policy implementation strategies and experiences of Medicaid programs in three US states that responded to a federal prompt to improve access to evidence-based practice (EBP) substance use disorder (SUD) treatment.

METHODS: Three US state Medicaid programs implementing American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Criteria-driven SUD services under Section 1115 waiver authority were used as cases. We conducted 44 semi-structured interviews with Medicaid staff, providers and health systems partners in California, Virginia, and West Virginia. Interviews were triangulated with document review of state readiness and implementation plans. The Exploration, Preparation, Implementation, Sustainment Framework (EPIS) guided qualitative theme analysis. The Expert Recommendations for Implementing Change and Specify It criteria were used to create a taxonomy of policy implementation strategies used by policymakers to promote providers’ uptake of statewide EBP SUD care continuums.

RESULTS: Four themes describe states’ experiences and outcomes implementing a complex EBP SUD treatment policy directive: (1) Medicaid agencies adapted their inner/outer contexts to align with EBPs and adapted EBPs to fit their local context; (2) enhanced financial reimbursement arrangements were inadequate bridging factors to achieve statewide adoption of new SUD services; (3) despite trainings, service providers and managed care organizations demonstrated poor fidelity to the ASAM Criteria; and (4) successful policy adoption at the state level did not guarantee service providers’ uptake of EBPs. States used 29 implementation strategies to implement EBP SUD care continuums. Implementation strategies were used in the Exploration (n=6), Preparation (n=10), Implementation (n=19), and Sustainment (n=6) phases, and primarily focused on developing stakeholder interrelationships, evaluative and iterative approaches, and financing.

CONCLUSIONS: This study enhances our understanding of statewide policy implementation outcomes in low-resource, public healthcare settings. Themes highlight the need for additional pre-implementation and sustainment focused implementation strategies. The taxonomy of detailed policy implementation strategies employed by policymakers across states should be tested in future policy implementation research.

PubMed Abstract

Crable, E. L., Benintendi, A., Jones, D. K., Walley, A. Y., Hicks, J. M., & Drainoni, M. L. (2022). Translating Medicaid policy into practice: policy implementation strategies from three US states' experiences enhancing substance use disorder treatment. Implement Sci, 17(1), 3. doi:10.1186/s13012-021-01182-4