Monday, November 12, 2012

Republican political purity trumps the need for mental health and substance abuse services

The need is huge for effective mental health and substance abuse programs in Wyoming. The Wyoming Department of Health has been on the forefront of proving those services through its Medicaid-funded waiver programs. They fund treatments for low income residents but also for middle income people who have no health insurance, or insurance that limits coverage for mental health and substance abuse. National insurance parity legislation has helped some, but treatment is expensive, especially if you have to send a child out of state, which our family has had to do three times. And President Obama's Affordable Care Act has helped in the areas of pre-existing conditions and the ability of families to keep their kids insured until age 26. Thanks Obamacare!

Current treatment tactics in wraparound care call for keeping family members close to home. A worthy goal but not always practical in a rural state such as Wyoming. Your regional treatment center may be full so those located in surrounding states may be your only option. Face it, a person in southeast Wyoming has a slew of treatment options along the Colorado Front Range, from Fort Collins down to Pueblo. Same goes for southwest Wyoming. Yes, the state hospital is in Evanston but not everyone qualifies for a stay there, so residents look to Utah's Wasatch Front for alternatives.

And now the Wyoming Department of Health announces cuts to its mental health and substance abuse treatments. These cuts are in keeping with demands by Republican lawmakers to make budget cuts when none are needed. The current budget-cutting mania is prompted less by necessity than by Tea Party-inspired, We Hate Gubment, politics.

From a Wyoming Public Radio story by Willow Belden:
The Wyoming Department of Health plans to cut millions of dollars of funding for Medicaid and for mental health and substance abuse services. That’s to meet a budget reduction required by the state Legislature. Lawmakers directed the Health Department to reduce spending by 4 percent for fiscal year 2014 and to prepare for additional 8 percent cuts in the following two years. Health Department Director Tom Forslund says the cuts will be painful. “The Department of Health provides critical services and funds critical services, and so we can’t cut our budget without impacting those services,” Forslund said.  He says the cuts will mean healthcare providers won’t be reimbursed as much for treating Medicaid patients, which make it harder for low-income people to get medical care. “There will be some healthcare providers who elect not to serve as many Medicaid patients,” he said. “And that’s what’s happened to a lot of states around the country – that the more they cut payments to healthcare providers, the less healthcare providers are willing to see Medicaid patients.” Forslund says for every dollar that the state cuts in Medicaid funding, Wyoming loses a dollar of federal funding as well.

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