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Coalition urges "no" vote on Shirkey bill to change mental health care for people on Medicaid

The Michigan Capitol building in Lansing, featuring a lamppost and the Gov. Blair statue.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio
The state Capitol

Mental health groups are urging state legislators to vote no on a mental health care bill. 

They say Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey's bill would take desperately needed mental health care away from people on Medicaid. 

The bill would put insurance companies like Blue Cross and HAP in charge of mental health care for people on Medicaid, instead of county-run Community Mental Health agencies. 

Bob Sheehan heads the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan. He said other states have done this — with devastating results for patients.

"They have had services cut from them," he said. "Their access to care got worse almost overnight, and the service delivery network was left in shambles."

Health insurance companies support the bill. 

State Senator Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) said Senator Shirkey did not allow opponents of his bill to testify before it was passed out of his committee. 

Bayer said the bill would siphon $300 million from the Medicaid mental health care budget in order to cover administrative costs for the insurance companies, as well as improving their operating margins.

Roquesha O'Neil is a mental health advocate in Detroit. She said county community mental health agencies are on-the-ground experts when it comes to mental health care for low income children and families struggling with issues like gun violence, COVID-19, and PTSD.

She said health insurance companies have no experience providing emergency and ongoing services for the complex acute and chronic mental health needs of many people with Medicaid insurance.

"We need that bill not to pass," she said. "Because it's life and death when it comes to our community and our mental health."

In a press release, Shirkey said his bill, and a companion bill, SB 598, would make mental health care more accessible. 

“Where you live should not determine access to mental health care, and mental health care, like all health care, must reflect how people live their lives,” the press release said. “Through this critical reform, mental health care provided by the state of Michigan will be portable and more accessible, no matter where you call home.”

Senator Bayer said the bill has been passed out of committee, but Shirkey does not have the votes yet to bring it before the full House. She said many Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate do not support the bill.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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