Mental heallth investments are targeted, too

  • Article by: SUE ABDERHOLDEN
  • Updated: May 18, 2011 - 8:02 PM

Few Minnesotans would say our mental health system is adequate. Rich or poor, insured or uninsured, it is difficult to access high-quality treatment when and where you need it.

After numerous task forces, exposes and tragedies, the Legislature finally passed overdue reforms in 2007. It was a bipartisan effort. Mental illness strikes Republicans and Democrats alike.

The reforms included adopting a model benefit set (that is, treatments and services that work) under all Minnesota health care programs -- Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare and General Assistance Medical Care -- adding about $5 million per year to the mental health system. It also included roughly $18 million per year in infrastructure investments -- money to decrease mental health disparities and to develop services that could help everyone, such as school-linked mental health services, crisis teams and supportive housing.

In just two years' time, these investments have proven effective. Hospitalizations and emergency room visits have decreased; treatment is being provided earlier when it is most effective, and more people are being served in the community.

Despite the successes, these reforms continue to be targeted for cuts. Last year, more than $15 million was cut from the mental health system. This session, another cut is proposed of about $10 million per year, a little more than half of what was invested in the system in 2007. Add this to last year's cuts, and we have lost ground.

On top of this, the enormous changes being proposed to our three health care programs will mean people will lose access to the model benefit set -- to treatments and services that have proven to work. Losing Medical Assistance as an option for people at 75 percent of the poverty level, and losing our current MinnesotaCare program for low-income working people will result in an even greater loss of access to mental health services and a substantial loss of funding for our community mental health providers. Add to this the repeal of the requirement that counties continue to spend the same amount on mental health care as they did in 2004 -- and what we will have is a total collapse of our mental health system.

No public insurance options available to pay for treatment, no grants to support people in the community and no county dollars to cover treatment for the uninsured. What options are left? Police and sheriffs have already stepped up to oppose these changes -- they know that they will become the true safety net.

No matter where you live, how much you live on, what insurance you have -- if these cuts go through, you will have few options available. This is what happens in an all-cuts budget. Minnesota can do better.

Sue Abderholden is executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota.

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