News Notes September 2019

Lawmakers Look to Update SSI Program

People with disabilities who receive Supplemental Security Income would be allowed to keep substantially more assets and would no longer be penalized for marrying under a new proposal.

Currently, in order to retain benefits, SSI recipients generally can have no more than $2,000 to their name at any given time.

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are looking to significantly increase that ceiling, with a bill introduced this month that would raise SSI’s asset limit to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for couples.

In addition, the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act, or H.R. 4280, would increase the amount of disregarded income that beneficiaries can take in each month. And, the bill would repeal penalties for marrying or receiving financial, food and housing assistance from family members.

Backers say the time has come to update Social Security’s SSI program, which has remained largely static since 1972.

Section 298 Update

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced it plans to delay the Section 298 Initiative until Oct. 1, 2020. The goal of the project is to design a pilot model for integrating mental and physical health Medicaid funding and care management. In 2016, the state Legislature approved testing integration in three regional pilot projects with a target date of Oct. 1, 2019. However, the design of the pilots has been fraught with multiple problems. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked the MDHHS to evaluate the design of the pilots based on concern of mental health providers and comments from stakeholders, including parents and relatives served under behavioral health care.

Behavioral health advocates have been pushing state officials for the last several to terminate the pilot programs entirely. Concerns were raised that the integration will make care worse for patients. Mental health experts suggest integrating care at the provider level and not allowing Medicaid health plans to manage funding. Under former Gov. Snyder’s plan, originally announced in February 2016, Michigan would test ways to ultimately merge its $9 billion Medicaid physical health system managed by health plans and its nearly $3 billion Medicaid behavioral health system managed by 10 regional agencies called “prepaid inpatient health plans.” Medicaid HMO executives contend millions of dollars can be saved by coordinating care.

In 2018, MDHHS awarded contracts for three pilot programs to community mental health agencies in Genesee, Saginaw, Muskegon, Lake, Mason and Oceana counties. The agencies had been working with Medicaid HMOs to develop contracts and other links to coordinate physical and behavioral health services in the six counties. Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority has issued a request for proposal to work closely with one or more Medicaid health plans on a slightly different approach to integrate physical and behavioral health at the provider level without allowing the health plans to manage the funds. Oakland Community Health Network also is developing a similar proposal. (Crains)


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