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Consider The Consequences Of Changing State’s Current Behavioral Health Process

Letter to the EditorMay 23, 2019

The need for behavioral and mental health services has never been greater. And, the evidence supporting the need to not only increase access to services but also integrate behavioral health services with primary care is significant. Legislation (specifically, Senate Bill 268 and House Bill 335) advancing in Harrisburg portends a reversal of the strides the Commonwealth has made in delivering lifesaving mental health and drug and alcohol services. Both bills would reverse a decision made 20 years ago by turning over these services to large managed care organizations and/or national for-profit corporations thus stripping management from agencies that specialize in treating people with mental health or substance abuse challenges. All evidence suggests that returning to a system where mental health services are treated as what is termed a “carve in” to physical health could radically alter access to services (and supplemental services and programming) for millions of low-income Pennsylvanians. Under the current managed care system, the Children’s Service Center, and its affiliate, Robinson Counseling Center, offers an Integrated Clinical Health Care program. Clients with behavioral health issues have access to assessments and treatment for their mental and physical health. This model of a “medical home” addresses the synergy between co-occurring disorders and treatment plans that specifically address the complex health issues of the whole person. As Chief Executive Officer, I can attest to the effectiveness of the Children’s Service Center’s current model of offering our clients a one-stop shop for behavioral health (CSC/Robinson Counseling), primary care and dental services (The Wright Center) and pharmaceutical services (Genoa Pharmacy). These services were developed under a “carve out” model. We have flexibility to deliver real progress in integrated care with medical professionals who provide physical health care without sacrificing behavioral health care access and quality. The Commonwealth’s current behavioral health system is stable and allows for access to new programs and services. The current system works not just for those in need of services, but has proven to be economically prudent, benefitting taxpayers as well. A better approach would be to evaluate the current system, keeping what is working well and managing change in identified areas that could be improved. Completely scrapping a system that has worked well over 20 years is not the right way to go. Legislators should carefully consider the consequences of changing the Commonwealth’s current behavioral health delivery process. You should consider looking at how the move to a carve-in model worked in states like Colorado where consumers and providers continue to suffer through the transition. Families and individuals involved with the current system should make their voices heard. Let your legislators know how you feel about the potential changes. I strongly encourage Senators and Representatives to vote no on Senate Bill 268 and House Bill 335. MIKE HOPKINS is president and CEO of Children’s Service Center in Wilkes-Barre.

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