State legislators pessimistic about mental-health funding
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Area mental-health officials and providers were warned Wednesday morning — dollars would be tight at both the state and federal levels next year for the funding of existing programs.
State Representatives Dave Heaton (R-Mt. Pleasant) and Curt Hanson (D-Fairfield) met with area coordinators of disability services for mental health and area board of supervisors members at the Henry County Emergency Management Building to discuss funding prospects for mental health in the 2017 legislative session.
“State revenue is between $50 million and $119 million — depending on who you believe — below projections,” Hanson said. “We are going to have to reduce expenditures to balance the budget. The budget is not growing due to tax cuts and the economy showing less-than-expected growth.
“School funding is very paramount in what we do. I see a problem for rural schools because transportation costs are taken from the general budget,” Hanson continued. “We are going to have to take a close look at distribution of education funding.”
Heaton, longtime chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said he’s very worried about state and federal funding for Medicaid and mental health. “We are going to have to reduce the budget between $114 million and $116 million from last year. Sixty-nine percent of the state budget goes to health and human services and education. Where this money will come from (for health and human services and education), I don’t know. I am very concerned about funding for health and human services, but I am not getting any answers (from state officials regarding the funding for the programs).”
The veteran legislator said that giving school districts an additional 2-2.5 percent in state aid would cost $80 million. He added that he knows Medicaid next year will require another $130 million. “We’re trapped,” he said. “Things are very tight. One of the reasons is because of the property tax relief bill, which cut into resources. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t vote for that bill.”
Another factor in lower state revenue is online shopping by consumers, which costs the state sales tax receipts, Hanson said.
Heaton’s concern over future funding for Medicaid and mental health extends to the federal government. He said that the proposed U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services wants to cut Medicaid.
“They (federal officials and elected leaders) said they are going to address the Affordable Care Act and that concerns me because it covers medical health,” Heaton explained. “If those people (residents covered by the Affordable Care Act) are cut off, I don’t know what we will do. There isn’t any way we can find efficiencies to offset a 30-percent federal loss of funding. I think in the end, there will be a reduction. Whatever they do will kill us. There is a lot of stress and I feel your concern.”
Ryanne Wood, CEO of SEIL, the area multi-county mental health care region, said SEIL and the counties comprising it don’t have the resources to offset federal and state funding losses.
“If there are people coming off Medicaid, they will be coming to us and we don’t have the resources,” Wood began. “Any cost savings at the state level will be put on the backs of local residents and our only recourse is a property tax increase. …To destabilize us now would be detrimental to the state as a whole. Driving up the numbers or counties in one region does not help. It is more expensive to do it (provide mental-health services) in the rural areas.”
Sarah Berndt, Henry County coordinator of disability services, said mental health many times is tied to physical health. “My concern is that mental-health services will be covered,” Berndt stated. “Mental health affects physical health. My concern is how to keep these people under some type of medical health coverage.”
The coordinators of disability services for mental health said they had four major concerns related to the mental-health delivery system progress report. Those concerns were as follows.
• Sharing levy dollars with a larger population and a high probability of funds not allocated for local use (property tax redistribution).
• Losing local access which would diminish home rule even further.
• Providers will go out of business for insufficient capacity to efficiently service a larger geographic area.
• A unified statewide plan can be developed to address inconsistencies across regions. This pertains to service array as well as internal business practices.
“The vision when we put the region system together was that mental-health issues would be handled by the regions collectively and we really haven’t moved to that,” noted Wood. “Each county thinks the levy is its money.”
Although the legislators were not optimistic, they pledged to work hard for mental health. “We’ll take what comes and deal with it,” concluded Heaton.