Saving Money, Lives with Mental Health Program

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

A new study by the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families and Communities suggests an intensive and integrated mental health program called Full Service Partnerships is likely to save the state money at a return rate of $1.27 for every dollar spent.

The FSP program is designed to care for individuals with serious mental illness by taking a holistic approach to their care, according to Renay Bradley, chief of research and evaluation at the UCLA center.

"The idea is, if you have individuals who are particularly challenged, such as homeless individuals or just people who need a lot of assistance, they're funneled into FSPs," Bradley said. "And they do whatever it takes to get them to a decent level of functioning."

The kind of help offered runs the gamut of services -- medical care, life skills training, psychiatry services or practical matters such as help finding housing or jobs.

"It can be a lot of treatment," Bradley said. "The question is, how much does all of that cost? And, bigger picture, what are the cost offsets?"

That is, the UCLA study released Thursday looked specifically at the price tag of the FSP program, and compared that cost to what these mental health patients currently cost the state. 

"If you take a severely downtrodden person, and look at the time they spend in the criminal justice system and in emergency rooms, those are significant costs to society," Bradley said. "In the end, if we pay for them to get the FSP services, does that offset the cost if they didn't get services? That's the question."

The answer, Bradley said, is simple: "There is savings in the long run," she said.

The study estimated it costs, on average, about $20,000 a year, or roughly $50 a day, to treat someone in a Full Service Partnership. FSPs are funded primarily with money from Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act passed by California voters in 2004.

About 21,000 new clients were enrolled in FSPs in California during the two years studied, according to the report. Highlights of the report include:

  • Overall costs declined because of money saved by a decline in incarceration, psychiatric hospitalization and homelessness; 
  • Among adults ages 18-59 and older adults ages 60 and older, the state saved about 80% of its psychiatric hospitalization costs;
  • Cost savings was highest among young people (ages 16-25), where hospitalization savings topped 150%; and 
  • Overall, the study said, the reduction in cost to the state was 17%.

"In the end, so much comes down to money," Bradley said. "But at the same time, you don't want to just say, 'Yay! We're saving money.' Because the real good is helping these people."

The political reality of health care, though, she said, is that cost matters.

"The money makes the picture better," Bradley said, "and we're actually seeing savings in the long term, definitely."

Savings vary by county, and Bradley said she hopes to have a county-by-county breakdown of data released by early 2013.


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