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State mental health changes could be 'catastrophic' says NLCMH CEO

The Record-Eagle - 2/8/2020

Feb. 8--TRAVERSE CITY -- Before state officials upend the mental health system, they should fully fund existing community-based authorities and measure the results, says a local health care executive.

"The way it is being designed and the way it is being presented could have catastrophic effects to the public mental health system," said Karl V. Kovacs, CEO of Northern Lakes Community Mental Health.

Changes proposed by the state could undo the NLCMH's work treating those with a serious mental illness, an intellectual or developmental disability or a co-occurring substance use disorder, Kovacs said.

The state wants to combine physical health and moderate mental health illnesses into one category, which would be covered by Medicaid. And have a specialty integrated plan, or SIP, responsible for the physical and mental health of those experiencing more significant mental illness.

A SIP could include community mental health, a for-profit insurance provider, or a combination.

Currently, Medicaid covers the physical health needs of anyone with mental illness, regardless of severity. The state says changes will expand access and reduce red tape, while Kovacs said mental health services have been underfunded for decades and those who need services could be left without coverage.

"Before you do all this, fund us appropriately for a year or two. Focus on incremental improvements instead of massive change."

He made the comments Thursday in a virtual public forum broadcast in NLCMH's Traverse City, Grayling, Cadillac and Houghton Lake offices and at least one unnamed client agreed.

"I've invested a lot in creating relationships with my providers," he said. "So if we go to a system where we can have a one-stop care team, what about all I have invested in trying to get better?"

Kovacs suggested those with similar concerns contact elected officials, and said part of his concern centers on how quickly the state is moving.

On Dec. 4, Robert Gordon, head of the state's Department of Health and Human Services, made a presentation to the legislature's appropriation committee.

The state would like the changes to be finalized by 2022, according to documents.

Four public forums were held in January, all more than 140 miles from northern Michigan.

"Unfortunately, in the first round of public forums, our 21 counties in northern lower Michigan were left out," Kovacs said.

Following complaints, a fifth public forum was scheduled in Grayling, Feb. 21 from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at Kirkland Community College, 4800 W. Four Mile Road.

Those who cannot attend can email feedback to: MDHHS-FutureOfBH@Michigan.gov.

NLCMH serves Crawford, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Missaukee, Roscommon and Wexford counties. Through a waiver program with the state, it also serves elderly and disabled in some of the above counties, plus Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet.

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