After struggling through years of cuts, mental-health advocates say that Gov. John Kasich’s budget would expand treatment, housing and other services for the mentally ill and addicted.
Much of the help is tied to an expansion of the tax-funded Medicaid program, to give health coverage to more poor and disabled Ohioans. Many of the uninsured who now receive locally funded services would become eligible for Medicaid, freeing an estimated $70 million a year that county officials could re-direct to housing, employment and other help.
In addition, the governor’s proposal would remove up to 1,200 mentally ill residents from nursing homes, providing them instead with community-based services.
“Some mentally ill people, not just those who are severely mentally ill, will get help and beat this disease,” said Terry Russell, executive director of the National Association on Mental Illness Ohio. He called the Medicaid expansion “the most-significant development in years for the people I represent.”
Kasich’s proposed 2014-15 budget also calls for increasing the rate paid to adult-care facilities for the mentally ill, now $16 to $28 per day, and consolidating mental-health and drug-addiction services to save $1.5 million annually and streamline services.
The House Finance Committee will hear testimony today about the plan from Greg Moody, director of the Governor’s Office of Health Transformation.
Moody said in an interview that years of cuts had put local behavioral-health services “at a crisis point. The Medicaid expansion creates an opportunity to make a big leap in that system instead of trying to build back a little bit at a time, budget by budget.”
State funding for mental-health services was cut steadily beginning in 2008, resulting in a cumulative $112.4 million loss by 2011. A Kasich administration paper on behavioral health called it a “system in turmoil.”
The current state budget pumped $26.8 million into the system, helping but not replacing the money lost over the previous three years.
In addition to freeing up local dollars, Moody said, the governor’s plan would reduce costs associated with hospital emergency rooms, criminal courts and jail, places where those suffering from mental illness and addictions often end up when they have no access to services.
Franklin County officials say they would likely redirect local money to housing, prevention, education and outreach to reduce the stigma faced by those with mental illness and addictions and their families.
“A safe, affordable place to live is crucial for recovery,” said Susan Lewis Kaylor, chief administrative officer for the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County.
“We’ve never had the money. Since the recession started four or five years ago, we’ve reduced our allocations by $15?million. It’s really a significant step in the right direction.”
Cheri Walter, CEO of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, said the proposed Medicaid expansion will provide treatment to those who have been unable to get help, but cautioned that other resources are still needed to provide critical support services that help people recover and prevention services that “help keep our communities safe.”
State officials also hope the budget plan helps reverse a trend of placing the mentally ill in nursing homes because community-based services were unavailable. Mental Health Director Tracy Plouck said the idea is to allow funding to follow individuals, which means they could be served in their community rather than a hospital or nursing home.
Catherine Candisky and Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
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