LANSING—Community Mental Health Boards across Michigan are protesting state plans to introduce competitive bidding for mental health care, which would take control away from the boards.
Since 1963, Michigan's constitution has guaranteed state support of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. That used to mean the state would pay for institutional care. But in 1974, control of public services for the mentally ill moved to 49 Community Mental Health Boards, which operate services at the local level in one or more counties.
Twenty-five years later, those boards are facing the greatest change since their inception. After allowing the state to introduce managed care into mental health services as a cost-containment measure in 1998, the federal government has told state officials they will have to develop a plan for competition.
State officials have informed the Community Mental Health Boards that because the federal government requires competition as a condition of Medicaid payments, competitive bidding must be phased in over the next two years, and must be in place by October 2002. Under the new system, the boards will no longer have the right to provide mental health services. They will have to bid to provide services, and the state will be free to take bids as well from private and nonprofit companies, including hospitals and health maintenance organizations.
The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners has authorized the county's corporation counsel to file lawsuits against the state and federal governments, on grounds that allowing private companies to provide mental health care violates Michigan's constitution.
Some experts predict that under the new system, many rural Community Mental Health Boards would survive, since fewer private companies would bid for services in those areas. But some boards in more populous counties would probably disappear.