Government officials typically assume that spending can only increase, that greater efficiency isn’t possible and that efforts to cut spending will “harm the poor.” The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has proved otherwise.
ODMHSAS was given oversight last year of Medicaid dollars designated for mental health and substance abuse treatment. This shift was a “massive” change, in the words of Director Terri White. Her agency has since reined in costs without harming those in need. For example, agency officials found that behavioral health rehabilitation services were being provided to children age 6 and younger. That raised red flags.
“The evidence says this is not a service kids that young can benefit from,” White told The Oklahoman’s editorial board this week. “It’s just not.” So the agency stopped paying for children to get the service and instead directed them to proven alternatives. As a result, the agency has saved nearly $8 million in state and federal money since last July. In the next fiscal year, that change is expected to save $18.7 million total, including $6.7 million in state funds. “It’s really cutting where the services don’t have an evidence base for them,” White said.
Her agency also has established a replacement system for a Medicaid contract that previously provided prior authorization for those needing behavioral health treatment services. This is saving the state another $4 million annually. Over the past 10 years, Medicaid’s behavioral health costs have increased 14 percent per year. This year, White said, the growth rate has been cut in half “and we’re not denying people services.”
White and other ODMHSAS officials deserve praise for making government more efficient. Given that every penny spent by government comes from taxpayers, it’s crucial those funds be spent as wisely as possible.