Power, Blame, and Accountability: Medicaid Managed Care for Mental Health Services in New Mexico

Abstract

I examine the provision of mental health services to Medicaid recipients in New Mexico to illustrate how managed care accountability models subvert the allocation of responsibility for delivering, monitoring, and improving care for the poor. The downward transfer of responsibility is a phenomenon emergent in this hierarchically organized system. I offer three examples to clarify the implications of accountability discourse. First, I problematize the public–private “partnership” between the state and its managed care contractors to illuminate the complexities of exacting state oversight in a medically underserved, rural setting. Second, I discuss the strategic deployment of accountability discourse by members of this partnership to limit use of expensive services by Medicaid recipients. Third, I focus on transportation for Medicaid recipients to show how market triumphalism drives patient care decisions. Providers and patients with the least amount of formal authority and power are typically blamed for system deficiencies.