Across the country, efforts to integrate Medicaid behavioral health and physical health services to improve access and overall quality of care are under way. Regardless of what happens over the coming months, as Congress considers how to address the Affordable Care Act, these efforts will prevail because it just makes sense to treat and serve the “whole person.”
Rick Murdock recently retired as executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans.
The Michigan Association of Health Plans continues to believe that a transition to merge our government-financed mental health system with our current managed Medicaid system under a single accountable contract ultimately will do more to ensure individuals get all the care they need, when they need it, in a cost-effective manner, than any other proposal under consideration.
Unfortunately, concerns were raised early last year with policymakers that a move to an integrated system would lead to lower quality service, or result in privatizing mental health care, even though privatization of the rest of Medicaid occurred years ago, and continues through the Healthy Michigan Program. Of course I’m biased, but the evidence seems pretty clear that integration can be achieved through the successful managed Medicaid program that we have in place today. Let me explain.
Members of the association I lead have used data-based, competition-driven, consumer-empowered managed health care solutions time and again to provide better care for low income families. Thanks to their smart management and the state’s outcome-driven regulations, we have seen improved outcomes for low-income beneficiaries in the Medicaid program while holding cost increases below the health care system as a whole.
In addition to the traditional Medicaid population of pregnant women and children, Michigan’s managed Medicaid system today oversees health care for the disabled, children with special needs and foster-care children. All need and receive personal attention, care management and consumer-focused care.
I am proud of my members who are annually ranked among the country’s best managed care organizations. This record bodes well for the future.
Our managed care system works so well, many people don’t even realize it has operated for 20 years, and today is responsible for effectively overseeing health care for nearly 2 million of Michigan’s 10 million residents. In 1996, the state opened to competitive bidding the opportunity for insurers, for-profit and non-profit alike, to manage services to the state’s Medicaid recipients.
The contracts are periodically rebid, most recently in 2015. Those eligible for Medicaid have the ability to choose from those companies who have won the bids in their regions. Each company develops lists of providers, and pays those providers for the services they deliver. In fact, it was due to the existence of this delivery and management system that the Legislature was comfortable in adopting Medicaid expansion – the Healthy Michigan Program.
Through the bidding process, Medicaid health plans take all risk for providing all contracted services. Under this system, patients face no care rationing due to waiting lists or budget constraints. Companies have to perform, or the state will turn to another insurer to manage the caseload. That gives them an incentive to quickly identify those consumers needing complex and acute services and work with their own staff and health care providers to deliver early intervention. Properly delivered care coordination and disease management limits their exposure to higher costs; it’s far more cost effective to take extra steps to ensure a diabetic takes his or her medicine than to pay for an amputation and related after care. The same principle works as we move into integration.
How might this be applied to behavioral health? Throughout 2016, a number of groups have participated in state-convened meetings to consider whether and how to integrate mental and physical health care for low-income residents. Recommendations from this group address many of the issues raised by consumers but perhaps more importantly, the recommendations also validate that we have a system in need of reform.
We have the opportunity to move forward in Michigan. The so-called Section 298 report requested by the Legislature on how best to combine behavioral and physical health services is nearing completion. A final report is due in early 2017. Through careful and prudent decisions on pilot and demonstration models, Michigan has an opportunity to create a system that combines health management in a consumer-focused manner and incorporate the consumer designed recommendations coming out of the Section 298 report.
An integrated managed Medicaid system, merging behavioral and physical health care through contracted incentives and performance metrics for companies to meet all the needs of a patient can give patients better care than our current bifurcated system.