LAURIE+COKER-1

Coker

State behavioral health officials will hold a town hall event in Winston-Salem aimed at gaining local insight from beneficiaries, family members and advocates.

The meeting will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday at Green Tree Peer Center, 930 S. Broad St.

Besides public-health nonprofit Green Tree, the event is being hosted by behavioral health managed care organization Cardinal Innovations and the local Mental Health Association.

“The voices of consumers and community stakeholders are critical when it comes to assessing our progress and exploring ways that we can improve health outcomes for people who rely on our system for their well-being and recovery,” said Kody Kinsley, deputy secretary for Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developments Disabilities for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

DHHS said that in 2019 alone, an estimated 113,816 adults and children received behavioral health and intellectual and developments disabilities services.

“We hope the town hall will facilitate more engagement with actual system users and families,” said Laurie Coker, president of statewide advocacy group NC CANSO and a local behavioral health advocate.

Ashley Conger, chief communications director for Cardinal, said that “the voices of our members and stakeholders are vitally important to ensuring that the public health system evolves in a way that serves their unique needs.”

Coker said she is encouraged that the number of individual registered to attend is at 73 — three times the registration total for the first town hall event in Wilmington on Jan. 30.

Coker said she was not surprised by the higher registration total given the advocacy support for behavioral health issues in Forysth County and the Cardinal territory that also includes Alamance, Davidson, Davie, Rockingham and Stokes counties.

“It is important to note that there is an exerted effort like never before to get actual service users —consumers in the mental health system and families — to come,” Coker said.

“Too often, it is providers and other stakeholders who come to these kinds of meetings. We’re hoping to foster some dialogue between service users and state leadership and to empower the ‘consumer’ voice.”

The town hall also will present an opportunity to discuss the Medicaid managed-care initiative that has stalled as part of being caught up in the state budget stalemate between Gov. Roy Cooper and state Republican legislative leaders.

DHHS is trying to move forward where it can with the Medicaid managed care transition since the initiative was suspended indefinitely Nov. 19.

However, until $218 million in start-up funding is released from the state budget or a mini-budget bill, the agency and reform groups remain in neutral, state Medicaid director Dave Richard said Tuesday.

Medicaid serves 2.2 million North Carolinians. Of those, 1.6 million are scheduled to be enrolled in the new managed-care system under a federal waiver approved in October 2018.

Managed care is a system under which people agree to see only certain doctors or go to certain hospitals, as in a health maintenance organization, or HMO, or a preferred provider organization, or PPO, health-insurance plan.

The proposed managed-care prepaid plans (PHP) — at the heart of the Republican-sponsored initiative — would pay health-care providers a set amount per month for each patient’s costs. DHHS will reimburse the plans.

With the delay, the current fee-for-service model remains in place.

Cooper’s vetoes of the Republican-sponsored state budget and mini-budget legislation House Bill 555 came in large part because neither contained language addressing Cooper’s priority for expanding Medicaid to potentially 450,000 to 650,000 North Carolinians.

“This system change we await will mean many people will need to understand what is happening and make a choice of a new health and mental health care manager,” Coker said.

“Our system users are certainly not accustomed to being given choices and the learned passivity is not good for their own mental health outcomes. This meeting can, in a small but meaningful way, empower them.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com

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