Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Should Mental Health Be Privatized?

A well regulated free market can be a wonderful thing. At its best, regulated competition leads to fair prices and quality goods and services. However, the free market is necessarily fueled by profit. Failure to produce a profit results in a failed endeavor. The system works well as long as the goods and services in question are not negatively affected by profit as the overarching goal.

Having profit as the key goal automatically relegates more noble aspirations to minor positions. Fairness, compassion, and honesty become subsidiaries to profit in privatized services. We have all experienced firsthand situations where privatized healthcare has failed the litmus’ for fairness, compassion, and honesty.

The state of North Carolina privatized mental health services several years ago. The result? North Carolina jails are filled with indigent folks suffering from mental illness. Mental health services for the poor in North Carolina are nearly inaccessible. State-run community mental health centers have the prime goal of effective mental health services to the community, not profit. State-run facilities are not always successful (especially when underfunded), but effective treatment is at least their main objective.

At a community mental health center, if a patient fails to show for an appointment, a case worker may make a home visit to ensure treatment. In the private sector, when a patient fails to show for an appointment, follow up is much less aggressive (What happens when you miss an appointment with your family doctor?). Community mental health centers assume a good deal of responsibility to ensure their patients receive treatment. Many indigents with mental illness do not place a high priority on their own treatment. Failure to treat these folks is not just harmful to the individual, it is detrimental to society. Financial, social, emotional, and physical harm to other members of the community often results when the poor do not receive the treatment they need.  

Despite stereotypes of lazy, ineffective government workers, many services are more effectively delivered through the public sector. The US Military, Post Office, Medicare, Mental Health, FDA, and Social Security are all examples of services better managed by the public sector.

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