ANNAPOLIS – The state’s beleaguered public mental health system may get some desperately needed assistance from a bill unanimously approved by a Senate panel Wednesday that reimburses some Medicaid expenses.
With many of the state’s public clinics operating in the red, the legislation, supported by the Senate Finance Committee, could provide clinics with a financial boost.
“(The bill) is an attempt to repair a part of the public mental health system that is woefully underfunded,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. “Anything that will help put more money into the system is a positive step towards funding mental health services for those in need.”
Montgomery County has already seen one of the state’s largest mental health providers, CPC Health Inc., close last year. Two other clinics in the county operated by Threshold Services Inc., are in danger of closing because of a lack of funds.
Under the current system, Medicare outpatient fees are capped at $89 for a one-hour visit, with Medicare reimbursing the provider about half that amount and the patient responsible for the remainder, said Rich Bayer, chief executive officer of Upper Bay Counseling and Support Services in Elkton and Havre de Grace.
However, that rarely happens.
“Since people who come to us are usually poor,” Bayer said, “they can’t pay and we end up losing money.”
Medicaid operates similarly with the cap set at $79 for a one-hour visit, he said, and the reimbursement rate at about 50 percent. If a patient is dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, they are charged the Medicaid amount, $79, and reimbursed by the Medicare amount, $44.50.
Under the bill proposed by Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, R-Montgomery, patients who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid would be charged the Medicaid amount, but both Medicaid and Medicare would reimburse the provider, a total about that of the cap.
For Bayer, his debt-ridden clinic could save about $24,000 annually. His clinic currently has a deficit of about $125,000.
“It won’t get us out of the red,” Bayer said. “But anything will help.”
The legislation could remedy one of many financial problems plaguing clinics, Bayer said. Much of the problem, he said, comes from drastic underfunding of clinics over the past few years.
The financial woes have affected treatment, said Craig Knoll, executive director of Threshold.
“There isn’t enough money to pay for the treatment of these folks,” Knoll said. “We’ve done what the system has demanded, which is deteriorate the quality of care.”
Even though the bill has the support of the finance committee, the problem of finding a way to fund the bill still remains, said Hogan. That hurdle still needs to be jumped before it reaches the full Senate, which may take a few weeks.
“We won’t bring it to the floor until we find where to get the money.”