NJAMHAA Advocates for State Budget to Strengthen the Community-Based Behavioral Healthcare System

March 30, 2018

The FY2019 New Jersey State Budget needs to include sufficient funding for the community-based behavioral healthcare system, which is contending with reduced capacity and increasing demand, as the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA) advocated during the Assembly Budget Committee's hearing earlier this week.

"By reimbursing providers for the full cost of care at a level that allows them to maintain a stable workforce, and investing in cost-effective, quality services, the state will ensure that all children and adults across New Jersey find a strong, solid foundation of accessible behavioral health care when needed," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA stated in her testimony.

Specifically, the State Budget needs to provide funding to support certain programs experiencing deficits due to the transition to fee-for-service (FFS) reimbursement; further extend contract funding for Community Support Services to make this program viable fiscally and operationally before it is transitioned to FFS; expand Early Intervention and Support Services, Screening Services and medication assisted treatment; and provide capital funding so that providers can meet regulatory requirements for providing integrated care for co-occurring behavioral and physical health conditions.

Many outpatient programs are currently operating under significant deficits following their transition this fiscal year to an FFS reimbursement system. Organizations have cut staff, including psychiatrists, and otherwise changed their business models to reduce their budgets in preparation for FFS. There is nowhere left to cut; several programs have ceased providing services and others are expected to follow suit, as NJAMHAA determined through informal surveys conducted with its member providers.

New Jersey must implement the FFS oversight study of rates that was mandated by law last year, and put in place safety net funding to keep programs fiscally viable until it is concluded and adequate rates are assured. Children's rates need to be included in the FFS study. It is also important that rate increases be accompanied by regular adjustments based on inflationary factors to sustain their adequacy, according to NJAMHAA.

"The loss of any services would be traumatic for the individuals who depend on them and their families - and possibly also to the state overall. For example, funding for prisoner reentry services, which was removed from Gov. Murphy's proposal, is needed to give former inmates the opportu-nity to recover from addictions and rebuild their lives, which would also yield significant savings for the state by preventing relapse and recidivism," Dr. Wentz said.

During this time of increasing demand for both mental health and substance use treatment, investment is needed to sustain, strengthen and expand services. "The demand for mental health and substance use treatment has always exceeded system capacity, resulting in long wait times for appointments, turning to emergency rooms for some, and a total lack of treatment for others," Dr. Wentz said.

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