Public community health centers face financial woes

JACKSON – If a Medicaid recipient receives care for a mental illness from a private provider, whether from a doctor or a hospital, the state Division of Medicaid and the federal government pay for the treatment.
But because of state law, if a Medicaid recipient goes to one of the state’s 15 community mental health centers for treatment, only the federal government provides payment.
That’s why the community health centers find themselves in a precarious financial position. They can’t pay the matching funds needed to draw down federal dollars. Without help paying that money, some face the possibility of closing.
In recent years, the state Department of Mental Health has provided to the 15 community health centers at least some of the matching funds needed to draw down federal Medicaid dollars.
But Ed LeGrand, executive director of the Department of Mental Health, said his agency, which oversees the state’s mental health hospitals and other services, faces budget woes of its own and no longer can provide the matching funds.
The 15 community mental health centers, including centers based in Tupelo, Oxford and Corinth, have agreed to pay $12 million of the between $24 million and $36 million in matching funds they owe each year, but said they cannot afford to pay all of it.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the community mental health centers, the Division of Medicaid, the Department of Mental Health and legislators are currently trying to solve the dilemma facing the centers.
Holland said he believes the community mental health centers’ offer to pay $12 million toward the match “is generous … I feel like the law is on the side of the community mental health centers. I think if they went to court a judge would say ‘Medicaid, pay the bill.’
“At the end of the day, that is the Legislature. It is our responsibility.”
Holland and others have questioned whether under federal law the state of Mississippi could provide payment to one group for providing mental health care – private providers – but not to a public group – the community mental health centers.
Some have hinted the centers would file suit against the state.
But Charlie Spearman, executive director of the Timber Hills Center, based in Corinth, said he would not be part of a lawsuit.
“I don’t think anybody will win if we turn to a lawsuit,” he said, adding he hopes an agreement can be reached to provide financial help to the centers.
The 15 community mental health centers operate independently and provide various services for people dealing with mental illnesses, people suffering from drug addictions, people dealing with intellectual disabilities and others.
The Department of Mental Health also contracts with the centers to provide community-based treatments, including to people who have been discharged from state institutions.
The centers receive funding from a tax levy in the counties in their service region. The centers treat people regardless of their ability to pay.
LeGrand said 80 percent of the centers’ total revenue is from treating Medicaid-eligible patients. If the centers cannot treat Medicaid patients, because of their inability to pay the state match, then many might cease to exist. LeGrand said the counties could contract with those centers that can pay the match to continue to provide services.
But LeGrand also has gone on record stating it is important to solve the financial problems facing the community mental health centers.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal