Letters to the Editor

Safeguards Needed as State Switches to Fee Plan for Mental Health

Dear Editor,

Morris County’s community mental health system serves thousands of our county’s most vulnerable residents and does an excellent job. 

Recently, my father, Senator Tony Bucco and I met with Morris County Mental Health Administrator Laurie Becker, Marcy McMann, chair of the Morris County Mental Health Addictions Services Advisory Board, a group of service providers and two clients to discuss the change to fee-for-service funding which is being implemented by the State.

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The information that was shared with us by the providers concerning this change is disconcerting.  Based on their concerns, I believe New Jersey must put in place certain safeguards as the state switches to fee-for-service funding. The plan is scheduled to take full effect on July 1, 2017. County behavioral health leaders and providers say the changeover as currently configured will end a 40-year system in which the state ensured that mental health providers could serve all of our most vulnerable residents.

While our county’s mental health leaders and providers support the more efficient fee-for-service funding plan, they say it has significant holes that would force providers to scale back key services and/or serve fewer residents in need. Some providers may be forced to shut their doors. As explained to us, providers will only be paid for certain services under fee for service, and some of the rates don’t come close to covering their costs. In addition, the state will not pay for sessions when a client misses an appointment.  Please note those with mental illness typically fail to attend doctor’s appointments 20 to 30 percent more often than the general public.  This obviously creates a drain on the system since the providers must pay their staffs even when clients fail to attend their appointments.

I believe this plan, as it stands now, could also pose a severe financial burden on our counties if the providers’ projections of increased jail admission, emergency room visits and psychiatric hospitalizations come to fruition. It should be noted Rutgers University Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy last January issued a report showing that the mental health and substance abuse services industry in New Jersey annually provides about 60,000 jobs and contributes at least $3.1 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, as well as generating $105.8 million in state tax revenues and $136.5 million in local tax revenues.

I call on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in taking another look at fee-for-service funding to make sure we don’t inadvertently dismantle the safety net that keeps people with mental illness in their communities and out of emergency rooms and jails.

Sincerely,

Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, 25th District

1040 Route 10 West, Suite 104, Randolph, NJ 07869

973-927-2526 District Office Phone

973-927-2529 Fax

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