The Impact of Risk Shifting and Contracting on Mental Health Service Costs in California
Scheffler, R.M., N.T. Wallace, T.W. Hu, A.B. Garrett, and J.R. Bloom. “The Impact of Risk Shifting and Contracting on Mental Health Service Costs in California.” Inquiry 37.2 (Summer 2000): 121-133.
This paper identifies the impact of “program realignment,” a 1991 California state policy that significantly enhanced local governments' financial risk and programmatic authority for public mental health services, on treatment costs per user, and on the mix of inpatient and outpatient service costs. The study employs a natural pre-realignment and post-realignment design using the 59 California local mental health authorities (LMHAs) as the unit of analysis over a seven-year period spanning policy implementation. Total treatment and inpatient cost per user decreases and outpatient cost per user increases after program realignment. Higher levels of contracting with private providers tend to enhance this trend, while risk for institutional services reduces user costs uniformly. Financial and programmatic decentralization can enhance cost efficiency in treatment, while promoting substitution of outpatient services for inpatient services. Local conditions such as risk and contracting determine the extent of the policy response.