Governor Takes Crucial First Step in Signing of State Assembly Bill A-4146

The New Jersey Community Mental Health Coalition (NJCMHC) welcomed Governor Christie’s signature on a law that establishes an independent commission to review the impact of major changes to the state’s mental health services budget.  Sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, District 37 (Bergen), Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson, District 14, Mercer and Middlesex), Pamela R. Lampitt, District 6 (Burlington and Camden), Gordon M. Johnson, District 37 (Bergen), and Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight, District 31 (Hudson) with co-sponsor Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones, District 5 (Camden), Assembly Bill A-4146 was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie last week. The law establishes an independent advisory board to oversee the implementation of the fee-for-service reimbursement model for community mental health providers. The law also requires the Department of Human Services (DHS) to hire an independent contractor to evaluate the shift and provide regular reports to the state legislature.

“We applaud this important first step in addressing the inadequacies of the state’s proposed reimbursement model for our vital organizations,” said Joe Masciandaro, CEO of Care Plus and member the NJCMHC. The NJCMHC was formed last month by community mental health providers to educate and inform the public about the reimbursement model transition and the possibility of a statewide mental health crisis if the model is enacted as currently proposed. “We would like to thank the members of the Assembly who supported this bill and the Governor for signing it and affirming the state’s commitment to the mental health community. However, the NJCMHC recognizes that this law alone cannot address the financial shortfalls facing our organizations and additional legislation is required to mitigate the devastating impacts of the transition,” added Masciandaro.

Members of the NJCMHC and the mental health community are particularly concerned about inadequate rates of reimbursement in the fee-for-service system that will force them to operate at a deficit for a large number of their services. With inadequate cashflow stemming from the state’s action, these organizations will need to cut or limit certain services to ensure they can keep their doors open.

Currently being debated, the Community Mental Health Safety Net Act (S-3121, A-4827), will work with the oversight structure established by A-4146 to provide bridge funding for the entirety of the next year to ensure that providers do not encounter cash flow problems during the transition as DHS works out the correct rate structure with the independent advisory board and contractor. The appropriation will allow providers with cash flow issues to pull from an emergency fund to ensure that they can continue to provide these essential services at their current levels. Any funding not spent out of this pool of funds will be returned to the state at the end of the year.

“The NJCMHC looks forward to the Community Mental Health Safety Net Act being passed and signed into law as it represents the final puzzle piece needed in the fight to preserve the mental health safety net in New Jersey,” said Robert Parker, CEO of NewBridge Services and NJCMHC member. “By providing us with the transitionary funding proposed in this bill, the State of New Jersey can guarantee that no mental health provider will be forced to limit services or close their doors due to the fee-for-service transition. Every community mental health provider fears the day that we have to turn a patient away due to a lack of available funds and this bill will ensure that day does not arrive as a result of the FFS transition.”

The Community Mental Health Safety Net Act has drawn bi-partisan support, and is currently sponsored as Senate Bill S-3121 by Senator Robert M. Gordon, District 38 (D- Bergen and Passaic) Senator Anthony R. Bucco, District 25 (R- Morris and Somerset) and Senator Robert W. Singer, District 30 (R- Monmouth and Ocean). The Assembly Bill A-4827 is being sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, District 37 (D- Bergen)

About the NJCMHC

The NJCMHC is a partnership spearheaded by nine non-profit community mental health organizations that have joined together to advocate for continued, comprehensive treatment and care for mentally ill adults and children throughout New Jersey. Its mission is to give a voice to each person suffering from mental illness and ensure that they have continued, uninterrupted access to the proper treatment and long-term, ongoing care that they desperately need. NJCMHC members include: Care Plus NJ, NewBridge Services, Mental Health Association of Essex County, Inc., Vantage Health System, Comprehensive Behavioral Healthcare, West Bergen Mental Healthcare, South Jersey Behavioral Health Resources, Ocean Mental Health Services, Inc., and Cape Counseling Services.

The NJCMHC is funded through private donations and other philanthropic efforts. To learn more, visit the NJCMHC on Facebook (www.facebook.com/NewJerseyCommunityMentalHealthCoalition), Twitter (@NJMentalHealth), and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/new-jersey-community-mental-health-coalition).

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