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Multnomah County Moves To Limit Mental Health Coverage

Portland’s health organizations are reacting Monday, to news that Multnomah County is planning to refuse mental health services to most new applicants to its Adult Verity Plus program.

In a draft letter, obtained by OPB, the county says it no longer has the money to pay for treatment. Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.

The Adult Verity Plus program provides mental health care to people with low incomes who live in Multnomah County. Either they don’t make enough to afford private health insurance, or they’re destitute. Verity helps them get  treatment for diseases like schizophrenia and depression, as well as bi-polar and anxiety disorders.

But now Multnomah County says it only has enough money to help people with the most severe problems  — what it classifies as LOCUS 3 or 4 needs.

Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, says this is a crisis.

Jason Renaud: “LOCUS 3 and LOCUS 4 are just inside baseball terminology for saying the person is a danger to themselves, or a danger to other people.”

What the letter means is that unless you’re a danger to yourself, you won’t get help from the county. In the letter, the county says you’ll only get treatment if you’ve either just been discharged from a psychiatric hospital or jail, or you’re in danger of losing custody of your kids.

The letter goes further. It says those who are already on the plan will need to be re-authorized to remain.

Jason Renaud with the Mental Health Association says that's a big concern.

Jason Renaud: "…because that’s a very wide net there. We have no idea what that means or what the qualifications are. So we’re hoping that the county comes forward immediately with some information about what this means, for the community and for the individuals."

Steve Weiss: “This is a major change in the delivery of mental health services to those on the Oregon Health Plan in Multnomah County.”

The former president of the Mental Health Association of Oregon, Steve Weiss, was also surprised by the letter.

Steve Weiss: “This appears to be eliminating a fairly sizeable number of people who have been receiving mental health services.”

At Multnomah County, managers are downplaying the cut, saying they are  simply returning to the previous policy  before treatment was expanded last year.

David Hidalgo, who manages the county’s mental health call center, says few people will be affected.

David Hidalgo: “The number of individuals who will be impacted based on the current treatment authorizations requests that we have from our provider network, will be less than 25 individuals per month.  And those individuals would be able to be referred to other no-cost or low-cost agencies in the community.”

Hidalgo says when treatment was expanded last year, hundreds of extra people signed up for ‘Adult Verity.’ By ending enrolment now, he says, the $2 million dollar program won’t fall into the red by the time the fiscal year ends next June.

He also says the yearly re-authorization of ‘Adult Verity’ members is not new.

David Hidalgo: “The county does utilization management or review of the clinical assessment and treatment plan that a provider submits for somebody, when they request another year’s worth of authorization for payment. The goal of the program, as we indicated in the letter is to be able to provide access to those individuals who have the highest risk in our community, and pose potentially a community safety risk.”

He says the program also isn’t meant to be a long-term fix. The idea is to help people transfer to other — more permanent benefits — like the Oregon Health Plan.

Mental health treatment for children in Multnomah County is funded by a separate source and is not threatened under these cuts.

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