Health Care Changes Could Impact Mental Health Services

Brianna Vannozzi, NJTV News

Mental health and addiction agencies are banding together to stop the state from transitioning to a fee-for-service health care model. That’s the system that moves away from predetermined contract fees by drawing down federal dollars. Instead it requires doctors to charge for each service provided — like tests or scans. Some experts say that leaves big gaps for state reimbursements.

“The model works in theory, but in practice the system — the mental health system is going to lose tens of million of dollars in revenue that’s going to affect people with mental illness and their families,” said Lou Schwarcz, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Morris County.

At a legislative breakfast in Bergen County, community health care providers and families in need of mental health services hoped to convince lawmakers that state funding cuts to charity care and the fee-for-service change would hit mental health services hard.

“Our biggest concern is that the safety net of those state contracts that have been in place for many, many years are going away and that as a result of fee-for-service a lot of the more behind the scenes supports that are so critical to our folks with mental illness are not going to be reimbursed,” said Morris County Department of Human Services Mental Health Administrator Laurie Becker.

“We estimate that in July 2017 approximately 2,000 individuals that we see for what we call medication management would lose services or be at threat for loss of services,” Joe Masciandaro, President and CEO of CarePlus NJ.

Organizers of the event contend the funding plans sever state contracts with community mental health centers. Those contracts as used as “safety net” funds to cover expenses private insurance and medicaid won’t — meaning centers would be forced to shut or cut services.

“It’s going to mean that we’re not going to be able to serve between 1,500 to 2,000 patients. We’re going to have a lot more patients in jail, a lot more patients on the streets, a lot more patients in the emergency department,” said Greg Speed, Cape Counseling president and CEO.

Patients with mental health and substance use disorder now account for nearly half of the growth in hospital emergency room visits. According to a new report from the NJ Hospital Association ED visits increased by 117,000 patients from 2014 to 2015. Nearly 54,000 or almost 46 percent were cases of mental health or substance use disorder.

“We have such a significant issue with mental health services, drug addiction. They’re tied in together and so its something where by we need to assure we have the adequate providers and services available for our constituents,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

“We have a bill that we are introducing in the legislature to make sure that we’re create a task force that will oversee the fee-for-funding service and to make sure funds are available, see where they are lacking, see where they need more support,” Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle said.

Event organizers say they’ve collected more than a thousand signatures on a petition from folks who will be personally affected hoping to influence the governor and legislature to keep contract dollars intact. Saying that if the financial ramifications don’t appeal to them, perhaps the human expense will.