Washington State is rapidly preparing for health care reform changes. Some of the changes coming soon include:
- Individuals receiving federal and state-funded medical and behavioral health services will eventually be moved to managed care.
- The bulk of current and soon-to-be reduced Medicaid and state funds will be shifted to Medical Health Plan oversight.
- The state is moving toward the integration of its mental health and substance abuse programs into a singular behavioral health program.
With these changes, counties will be left serving only people with the most severe mental illnesses. Funding will be drastically reduced creating an enormous dilemma because no single entity will operate independently thus leaving financial risk and liability to counties and local communities.
Forming the alliance
In preparation for health care reform changes, representatives from Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties, along with the Cowlitz Tribe, local hospitals and health plans, are exploring the creation of the Southwest Washington Regional Health Alliance (RHA).
The alliance has made great strides since planning began in September 2010 and is ready to move forward with a work plan developed in partnership with consultant, Dale Jarvis. The work plan was formally endorsed by county commissioners from Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties on August 29, 2011.
The endorsement of the plan encouraged collective efforts while providing local voice in changes to the state’s health care system – a key ingredient to providing the best services for consumers while reducing financial risk and liability to counties in southwest Washington.
Serving the safety net population
Each RHA partner has resources and the expertise to best serve the safety net population. The purpose of the RHA is to leverage this expertise and resources across multiple service delivery systems to improve quality and the integration of care for persons served by multiple systems.
An example of how the RHA can work may be illustrated in the approach to addressing the chronic homeless population. Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) data shows that this population suffers from serious mental health and drug and alcohol issues along with chronic medical conditions. Each payer within the RHA has invested in providers that are skilled in serving this population. Counties have contracted with skilled behavioral health and housing providers over the years. Public Health has addressed other health issues in the community like prevention and oral health. Health plans involved in the RHA will have access to this expertise and its host of resources.
Utilizing this approach, all partners will be able to plan and prioritize which services are most needed in order to best serve individuals and families in the safety net with the goal of helping them become more healthy and stable in their lives. The RHA will follow up with on-going evaluation and assessment of the services to ensure agreed upon goals and objectives for all RHA members were being met.