Monday, December 6, 2010

McDonnell’s Shell Game

Governor McDonnell intends to privatize Virginia’s mental health care system, arguing it will save money. Privatization of mental health care, however, will cost Virginians millions of dollars more than if it were left in the hands of a state organization. While many private health care providers are decent and highly motivated, the governor nevertheless appears willing to open the door to special interest groups whose goals are self-enrichment, not better health care. The governor appears poised to guarantee private companies a profit (as much as 10%) for running mental health care. McDonnell proposes to line the pockets of individuals who will get rich on the problems, sufferings, and illnesses of others.

McDonnell’s privatization plans break promises made after the shooting at Virginia Tech. Following the Tech tragedy, Richmond promised more money for mental health services. Indeed, the state did allocate money for mental health and indicated that it would be a high priority. However, the state then cut the mental health budget by 15%, and the following year by another 15%. Virginia now spends less on mental health than it did before the Tech shootings.

McDonnell was Attorney General when the promises were made. He did not object to those promises—his silence was tantamount to concurrence.

The governor bases his policy on the fallacy that privatizing will make the system more efficient. It is not logical to assume that paying private firms less money for decentralized mental health care will result in better treatment and reduced costs. If mental health care is turned over to private companies the state will need an office to guarantee the quality of privately run patient care. That office will cost money.

Privatization includes decentralization of mental health care. Decentralization will mean a loss of economy of scale. Some individuals should be in larger institutions where they can get better care; they need to be away from the rest of society. McDonnell’s decentralized mental health system would do away with these larger institutions. Well meaning, but unqualified people working for less money will be hired. The quality of care will suffer. People will not be cured nor will they be turned into individuals who can function in society. People will not get the care they need; some will be turned away or turned out. Many or most will turn to crime, and when arrested the electorate will have to spend more money on jails. Meanwhile, private providers will get richer and richer.

Governor McDonnell is a graduate of a Christian school that prides itself on teaching family and Christian values. The governor is quick to point out how much he respects and promotes those values. Unfortunately, his policies are the exact opposite of his words. Privatization of mental health care will mean families will suffer; families that are in no position to defend themselves. Tax dollars will go to guarantee profits to contributors to the governor’s political campaigns, not to help vulnerable people, many in desperate need of help.

The governor can find money to repair roads, but not human beings.

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