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Politics & Government

Mental health overhaul bills receive committee hearing

a sad woman out of focus talking to a psychiatrist
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Supporters of a package of bills in the Michigan House say the proposed legislation would expand access to mental health services.

Legislation that would redesign Michigan’s behavioral health administration received a hearing Thursday before a state House Committee.

Bill package supporters said the state’s current system is too complicated. They said that can keep people from getting help before they reach a crisis stage.

State Representative Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp) said her plan would help everyone get mental health support.

“Whether it’s mild symptoms of anxiety to more severe of depression, suicide, severe mental illness, drug addiction — which I truly believe is self-medicating for mental illness — so, what we’re doing is making sure every tax dollar matters and actually goes to services,” Whiteford said.

The legislation would create a Behavioral Health Oversight Council. It would also require the state to fund certified community behavioral health clinics.

Rep. Felicia Brabec (D-Ann Arbor) is among the package sponsors. She described those community clinics as a sort of “front door” for the state’s mental health services.

“What we’re able to do is not only see folks who are in an acute state, which is what we have now with the mental health code, but we’re also able to see folks who are in a mild to moderate place in terms of their mental health,” Brabec said.

She said the legislation would expand on an existing trial of certified community behavioral health clinics.

“The preliminary data that we’re seeing is that we’re seeing access go up, so more people are accessing services, and hospitalizations are going down. And isn’t that what we want to see, right? We don’t want folks to get to that acute state where they’re needing to go out to our emergency departments,” Brabec said.

The plan would also create a third-party “administrative services organization.” The state health department could contract one to help coordinate management.

“Currently, there are so many different layers of administration until you actually get to a person being served that there’s a lot of money being wasted. So, what I’m trying to make sure is that the state is able to enforce the laws. They can actually do all the administration. It’s an option for them to contract with the administrative service organization,” Whiteford said.

The organization would replace an existing network of prepaid inpatient health plans. Whiteford said doing so could save the state up to $300 million.

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