In Arkansas, Mental Health Treatment Bogged Down by Uninsured

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 12:00 am  

“Sometimes you see a cycle of patients who, if we did have resources for them, they could avoid hospitalization and could function better,” said Barry Pipkin, CEO of The BridgeWay. (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

Because Ozark Guidance receives about $2.7 million per year in state and federal funding, the organization is required to treat people with mental illness regardless of their ability to pay.

But that uncompensated care cost the nonprofit about $4 million in 2012, Petrizzo said. Ozark Guidance is primarily an outpatient behavioral health center, but it does offer some residential treatment.

Last year, almost 5,200 of Ozark’s 11,000 patients were on Medicaid, Petrizzo said.

About 1,700 more would be eligible for Medicaid coverage under the proposed Medicaid expansion to people with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

“The main thing that would be helpful to us … would be the Medicaid extension, where states have the ability to increase the income eligibility level,” Petrizzo said.

“It would reduce our uncompensated care burden, we figure, by 20-25 percent. … There’s a certain limit to how much you can do with uncompensated care. If a person has Medicaid, it’s easier to provide care because it’s a payment source.”

More Problems

Treating people who are chronically mentally ill and don’t have insurance comes with an array of problems, said Tom Grunden, executive director of the Little Rock Community Mental Health Center.

For one, emergency room and inpatient treatment are expensive, Grunden said.

Further, such services pull people out of their support systems of family and friends and don’t build sustainable, ongoing treatment outside of a facility, he said.

“Mental illness is recurring,” but patients come, receive intervention, then disappear, even though preventive care is cheaper,” Grunden said. “Thus, [providers] don’t know when symptoms recur.”

Grunden, along with executive directors of other Arkansas community mental health centers, serves on the board of the nonprofit Mental Health Council of Arkansas.



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