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Enrollment Duration, Service Use, and Costs of Care for Severely Mentally Ill Members of a Health Maintenance Organization

Bentson H. McFarland, MD, PhD; Richard E. Johnson, PhD; Mark C. Hornbrook, PhD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(10):938-944. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830100086011.
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Background:  The rapid growth of prepaid health care and the increasing enrollment of Medicaid clients in health maintenance organizations (HMOs) raise concerns about the adequacy of services for persons with severe mental illness in capitated health plans. Uncontrolled studies have suggested that enrollment of HMO members with mental illness may be prematurely terminated.

Methods:  We identified 250 adult Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region (Portland, Ore) members who were enrolled during 1986 or 1987 and had chart diagnoses of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Severely mentally ill subjects were matched by age and sex with control HMO members with and without diabetes mellitus. Records of the HMO and the state mental health agency were reviewed to determine HMO enrollment duration, private and public service utilization, and HMO costs of care during the 4-year follow-up period.

Results:  The severely mentally ill subjects had 42 months of HMO enrollment during the follow-up period comlitus with 37 months for the controls without diabetes mellitus and 47 months for the patients with diabetes mellitus (P<.001). When HMO enrollment prior to the study was taken into account, the severely mentally ill subjects and those with diabetes mellitus had similar membership duration. Among the severely mentally ill subjects, community mental health service use was related to longer duration of HMO enrollment (P<.05) but HMO costs of care per member per month were not related to retention. The severely mentally ill subjects were high users of mental health services but their use of general medical care was similar to that of the controls without diabetes mellitus.

Conclusions:  This controlled study found no evidence for early termination of HMO members with costly mental illness. Use of community mental health care was associated with longer duration of HMO enrollment.

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