Mental-health service and payment should remain in public hands

Mark Reinstein and Dohn Hoyle

Mark Reinstein, left, is president and CEO of the Mental Health Association in Michigan. Dohn Hoyle is public policy director for the Arc Michigan, a statewide non-profit advocating on behalf of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

For over a year, intense review has taken place across Michigan on a critical matter. How it is resolved will say much about our state.

On one side are powerful private insurers, who think about ways to increase profits. On the other are consumers of mental health service and their families and advocates, who think about survival.

The issue began in February 2016, when Gov. Rick Snyder proposed transferring $2.5 billion of Medicaid mental health money from governmental Community Mental Health Services Programs (CMHSPs) to the state’s 11 private Medicaid HMOs (also known as Medicaid Health Plans, or MHPs). The latter contract with the state to manage “physical” health care of many Medicaid beneficiaries.

The governor’s proposal was put on hold after public outcry. Since then, the state has done three major reviews of the issue. Each time, the governor’s plan was rejected.

First, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley formed a 120-person work group in early 2016. It recommended the publicly funded mental health system remain under CMHSP management.

Next, 45 affinity group sessions were held across the state last fall. Two-thirds of these were for service recipients and families, attended by over 700 people, who stated overwhelmingly they didn’t want MHPs controlling their mental health care. Additionally, the 15 affinity groups for service providers and payers yielded no recommendation supporting the Governor’s proposal.

Finally, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) appointed a 23-person workgroup to develop reports to the Legislature, delivered this January and March. Again, it was recommended that CMHSPs lead publicly funded mental health care and MHPs lead publicly funded care for other medical conditions. It was further recommended that joint CMHSP-MHP programming for shared enrollees be strengthened. These reports had over 70 recommendations, many targeted to improving the state’s mental health system.

Were three major reviews enough? Not for the MHPs. They continue to lobby legislators for what the governor proposed, even though that would be a legal nightmare, and even though their trade association supported the original DHHS work group’s recommendation.

Why are service recipients and families opposed to MHPs controlling mental health care? Reasons include:

  • MHPs have administered a limited mental health benefit for “mild-to-moderate” conditions the past two decades, and have done a poor job with it.

  • CMHSPs, directly connected to government, are more transparent with greater public accountability.

  • MHPs have limited experience with severe mental health disorders or modern mental health concepts like person-centered planning; consumer self-determination; and social supports to foster recovery.

  • Michigan has tested a project in four regions for dual Medicaid-Medicare enrollees. Eligible individuals are automatically enrolled in MHP-like entities, with the option to subsequently leave. After two years, over 60% of those the state automatically placed with MHP-like entities have dis-enrolled from them.

  • No one wants to risk forced changes of doctors and other service providers.

Integrating all funding at a macro-administrative level doesn’t enhance service coordination. Rather, the key is collaboration at local service provider levels.

The governor’s proposal should rest in peace. MHPs stand on an island trying to salvage it. The state has repeatedly examined the issue since the proposal was put on hold. At every stage, it has been rejected as harmful to those with mental health needs. And those whose lives depend on mental health services have spoken clearly about what they want.

The MHPs are pinning their last hope on legislators. To whom will our lawmakers listen?

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


John S.
Sat, 04/15/2017 - 12:28am

Why not conduct an evaluation using an experimental design? That's really the only way to objectively determine whether CMHSPs or MHPs would perform better. Randomly assign Medicaid eligible mental health patients to one system or the other and track them for three years and see what differences exist, if any, between the two groups. Perhaps such an evaluation has already been conducted in another state. It's best that important policy decisions be informed by evidence and not entirely by lobbying pressure, campaign money, ideology, story telling, anecdotal evidence, the biases of stakeholders, and other considerations that typically rule the day.

Allan Blackburn
Sun, 04/16/2017 - 4:29am

A pilot program was instituted in four regions for two years with a 60% disenrollment because of family and consumer dissatisfaction. The public has spoken. Like charter schools with big money for profit companies are salivating at getting their hands on guaranteed taxpayer monies.

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 8:26am

Ah, the old 'privitize' scam. Prisons, roads, schools, etc.
And each time they prove that it doesn't really work. But the Republicans keep coming back trying to sell it again and again. Remember the prison food mess?
And in Washington with the scammer Trump administration we'll see all the same stuff. Amway writ large (and in the Education Dept. Amway driving everything). It's just another shift of public money to the wealthy few.

Allan W
Sun, 04/16/2017 - 9:25am

That's essentially been done via the MI HEALTH Link program as well as the fact that HMOs run the mild to moderate (20 outpatient visits) Medicaid combined with physical health Medicaid. They've done a poor job with both. In the MI HEALTH LINK the two systems do not communicate and spend more time with bureaucracy than serving clients. With the mild to moderates the two systems are still siloed. They've had their chance to control the money.