Gov. Snyder proposes mental health service privatization

In February of this year, Michigan governor Rick Snyder proposed the fiscal 2017 state budget, one that would call for the privatization of funding towards mental health and substance abuse services. What this means for the mental health system is that rather than being state or locally funded, as Michigan has operated for a long time, mental health services would be turned over to private, for-profit corporations. Specifically, Medicaid HMOS (Health Maintenance Organizations) is an act that supporters, such as the Michigan Association of Health Plans, say would save the state millions of dollars by eliminating duplication of administration.

However, many are opposed to this idea of privatization. Some are wary of the claims of how much money would be saved over time and criticize the effect this will have on individuals who are a part of this system. This change in funding means cutting services and jobs that exist in the current system, and it may jeopardize the quality of life for those that depend on mental health services. Those opposed, according to the many news sources through Detroit, such as the Detroit Free Press and Crain’s Detroit Business publication, note that mental health funding should not be changed without first having a thoughtful and comprehensive plan that makes sure the needs of all its citizens will be met, and that those citizens would most benefit by remaining in a locally administered level.

CEO of Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, Willie Brooks, believes the needs of the Michigan residents served by the public mental health system should be considered above any potential state savings, and that it is the state’s responsibility to protect these life-changing services received through the community mental health system.

Medicaid health plans do not deal with these populations of individuals with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities and do not know the services provided, says executive director of Macomb County Community Mental Health and Macomb Prepaid Inpatient Health Plans (PIHP), John Kinch, noting that they don’t have the historical and local experience to provide the same way that a local and state sector can. Local mental health agencies are experienced in helping those who need the mental health services and are accountable for how the funding is spent to meet their clients’ needs.Any money saved is put back into services that benefit clients. Even if the only thing that changes with this plan is who administers the Medicaid money, community mental health care providers criticize that privatization will have a negative impact on the services provided, being the largest cut to behavioral health services ever in Michigan.

Tom Watkins, CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority, worries about what this means for individuals in the mental health system, cautioning the governor against profitizing the system of care for family members. He thinks that there are ways to improve service delivery that don’t place profits over people.