Privatizing mental health care spending is outrageous

For two decades, John Engler has been the most despised man among Michigan mental health care providers and clients. Step aside, Engler. Our new governor is selling the shambles you left behind to the private sector.

Typical of they way Lansing does things these days, Gov. Rick Snyder’s $54.9 billion 2017 budget includes a paragraph that takes management of the state’s mental health spending away from regional authorities and hands it over to private sector HMOs.

The governor’s budget doesn’t identify a reason for the switch. He doesn’t claim a cost savings, for instance.

But the reason for the change is as clear as a denial of benefits from your HMO. The Michigan Association of Health Plans lobbied for it. And what wealthy lobbyists ask for in Lansing, wealthy lobbyists get. Although “Michigan Association of Health Plans” sounds like something that should be good for us, its own web site says its first mission is to look out for the interests of its member insurance companies.

The group claims it can handle mental health clients’ Medicaid coverage more efficiently than regional mental health authorities do now, and that its knowledge and experience will save the state millions of dollars a year. It doesn’t mention that administrative costs for mental health spending could double or triple if the governor’s plan goes forward.

Those administrative costs, of course, would be paid to the insurance companies the association works to protect.

“Who stands to benefit from this change: the state, the Medicaid health plans or both?” asked Willie Brooks, director of the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, in a Crane’s Detroit Business interview. “We certainly know it is not the more than 300,000 Michigan residents who currently receive public mental health services for their developmental disability, mental illness, substance use disorder, or serious emotional disturbance.”

The current system works and by all accounts works well.

In its first days, Michigan wrote the protection and care of the mentally ill into its constitution.

One hundred seventy-nine years later, Snyder and insurance industry lobbyists don’t see a moral obligation to their most vulnerable fellow citizens. Instead, they see a profit center.

That’s sick.
— TIMES HERALD (PORT HURON)