Privatization isn’t the solution

By F. Douglas Stephenson
The Gainesville (Fla.) Sun, May 4, 2015

Privatization by predatory corporations and the local and state authorities that cooperate with them use state underfunding to sabotage public mental health and social services, “proving” that government is incompetent and unable to deliver services.

The latest idea for privatizing mental health services was first proposed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who included it in the proposed proviso language of his 2015-16 budget, a budget that also included further cuts in state funding for mental health services. Among the private, for-profit companies that could qualify to bid on the projects are some of the largest contributors to the governor’s campaign, making a mockery of ethics and conflict-of-interest standards.

We should expect nothing less from Gov. Rick Scott, however, a billionaire businessman who formerly was the infamous “unaware” CEO of Columbia/HCA. Columbia/HCA was fined $1.7 billion for falsified patient billing and giving kickbacks to doctors, perpetrating the largest Medicare fraud in the entire history of the Medicare program.

Sunshine Health, a Miami-based company that is the largest HMO provider under the long-term care portion of the state’s Medicaid managed care program, could be among the companies that competes. It is owned by Centene Corp., which spent $762,000 in campaign contributions in the last election cycle, including nearly $300,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. The company gave another $175,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association, which spent more than $20 million to re-elect Scott.

The standard technique of privatization: defund government services to make sure things don’t work and people get angry, then hand it over to private capital. By continuing to defund state mental health services, the Florida Legislature allows the for-profit, private sector to appear to “rescue” mental health services programs via self-serving profit-driven programs. It won’t be long until privatization falls short in quality service to the patient, but not until the private corporations raid the meager Florida treasury, getting their take going out the door.

Shockingly, we let the Republican Scott administration get away with this. The state of Minnesota learned that adding a profiteering middleman to manage health care delivery has always added costs, not lowered them. Without evidence, private HMOs always claim this will save the state millions annually.

We should remove private corporate insurance and HMOs from the administration of our public programs in Florida. Privatization of Florida’s mental health services will increase costs without any corresponding increase in quality or access to care.

As long as the general Florida population remains passive, apathetic and seemingly unable to advocate for its best interests, the powerful such as Scott and his corporate sponsors will continue privatizing as they please — and laugh all the way to the bank.

F. Douglas Stephenson, LCSW, BCD, is a former president of the Florida Society for Clinical Social Work. He lives in Inglis.