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What the Trillium merger means for Medicaid recipients in NC’s Border Belt

By Ben Rappaport 

Mental health services for people enrolled in Medicaid in much of southeastern North Carolina will soon be consolidated following a merger approved by the state. 

Trillium Health Resources will manage mental health care, substance misuse treatment and disability services for many low-income residents in 46 counties — including Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland — when it merges with Eastpointe and Sandhills Center on Feb. 1. The agreement adds 18 counties under Trillium’s care, including Robeson and Scotland, to serve 3.1 million residents.

Medicaid recipients currently enrolled with Eastpointe, Trillium or Sandhills will continue their care as usual, according to Trillium. They will receive new Medicaid ID cards and a Trillium welcome packet in early February, according to Trillium’s website

Existing employees will remain on staff. 

The merger comes after the General Assembly voted to expand Medicaid as of Dec. 1. Most adults who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty rate may now be eligible for the federal health care coverage program run by the state. 

“The consolidation agreement prioritizes doing what is best for members and providers,” Trillium said in a statement. “Our primary purpose is making sure our members have the highest quality care delivered in the right amount at the right time.”

Trillium spokesperson Jennifer Mackethan said all existing services provided by Eastpointe and Sandhills will continue to operate under Trillium. “Our first goal is to secure and stabilize the services that Eastpointe and Sandhills Center have in place,” she told the Border Belt Independent on Thursday.

Under Medicaid expansion, an additional 600,000 people are expected to enroll in the program, including 23,000 people in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties, according to a 2019 report from the Cone Foundation.

Authority over managed care organizations like Trillium was a point of interest during last year’s state budget negotiations, with many health advocates raising concerns about available services. State lawmakers also expressed frustrations about the accountability of the organizations when problems arise, North Carolina Health News reported.

Under the latest state budget, Trillium will receive $2.5 million annually for the next two years. Eastpointe was slated to receive $1.6 million, which will now also be allocated to Trillium under the consolidation agreement, according to Mackethan.  

Kody Kinsley, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which approved the Trillium merger, said he wanted to reduce the number of managed care organizations to streamline behavioral health services across the state. The goal, he has said, is for the organizations to build stronger networks of mental health care providers.

Following the merger, there will be four managed care organizations in North Carolina — Alliance Health, Partners Health Management, Trillium Health Resources and Vaya Health. A decade ago, when the system was first created, there were 11.

For members with questions about the consolidation, Trillium will host virtual information sessions from 4 to 4:30 p.m. every Monday from Jan. 8 to Feb. 16. Questions can also be submitted using Trillium’s online form or by calling 877-685-2415.

This story has been updated from its original version to include additional comments from Trillium.

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