Managed care for foster kids delayed 2 months

The state is delaying its move to put 27,000 kids in child welfare programs into a managed care plan.

The Georgia Department of Community Health told GHN on Friday that the managed care program requires more time to launch. It will begin March 3, instead of the originally planned Jan. 1, an agency spokeswoman said in an email.

The move of foster care children and those in adoption assistance and in the juvenile justice system will result in improved coordination of care, state officials say. The new program is also expected to save Medicaid millions of dollars by emphasizing prevention and keeping the children healthier.

The Community Health spokeswoman, Lisa Marie Shekell, said in an email that the agency “remains committed to this transition because of the improvements in care and health outcomes that the children and youth impacted by transitioning into a managed care environment will experience.”

The managed care program will be run by Amerigroup, a health insurer that already operates a care management organization serving Georgia children in Medicaid and PeachCare.

Amerigroup will be paid about $200 million annually for services to the children under the new program.

Community Health is working with the state Department of Human Services, Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities on the transition.

Community and advocacy groups welcomed the state’s decision to postpone the managed care launch.

“I’m glad they’re trying to do it right, instead of doing it now and doing it wrong,’’ said Ellyn Jeager of Mental Health America of Georgia.

Many of these children who will be affected have mental health needs, Jeager noted.

“I do have concerns on how they will treat the kids with mental illness,” she said. “They have to do it right.”

Under a single managed care plan, these children will not have to switch doctors as often as they do now, and the overuse of psychotropic drugs may be curbed, state officials say.

Kathy Colbenson, CEO of CHRIS Kids, an organization serving children and families, also praised the delay.

“I think it’s a very wise move,’’ she said. “It’s a major, major change. The level of complication and nuance is high.’’

“Foster children have been abused and neglected,’’ Colbenson said. “That’s a trauma that needs to be assessed and treated.”

While there is always risk with such a big change, she said, the transition to managed care has the potential “to be a great thing.”

Fran Gary, Amerigroup’s Georgia president, said in a statement to GHN, “We truly understand these children and young adults have unique behavioral and medical needs and believe our experience and holistic care coordination will enable us to address the challenges and bring additional support and resources to the children and families.”