Connecticut mental health services is expecting at least a $10 million hit in the form of cuts to state grants beginning July 1 which could result in an inability to treat everyone who needs it. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed the cuts last year based on an argument that most uninsured Connecticut residents would gain new coverage options via Obamacare. However, mental health care leaders say most of their clients still don’t have health insurance and probably won’t by July 1.
According to agencies that run mental health and substance abuse clinics, even if each of their clients had insurance, they would still feel the hit because the grants help cover the loss they take from the inadequate payments they receive from Medicaid.
“The mental health system is under tremendous stress,” Raymond J. Gorman, president and CEO of Community Mental Health Affiliates in New Britain told the CT Mirror. “The governor has put forward a couple of initiatives for some program expansions, but program expansions never take care of the underlying fundamentals of the system being dramatically under-resourced.”
According to the CT Mirror, Gorman said his agency would be forced to cut staff, reduce outpatient programs and do away with individual therapy if the cuts go through.
“We’re going to have to dramatically reduce the size and scope of what we do, the number of people that we serve and provide less intensive care to them,” he said.
According to reports, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services was already hit with the first round of cuts and may be hit with another $10 million on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. The agency was able to “hide” the first round of cuts by moving money around, but will not be able to absorb the impact of the second round of cuts.
Malloy’s budget director Benjamin Barnes argues that changes in the way mental services are paid for need to be made and that they should no longer be allowed to rely on state-funded grants and Medicaid as much as they do.
According to the CT Mirror, Barnes is aware of the issues and has made a statement that he is working with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to make sure the agencies have what they need to continue to provide services to people who need them.
Connecticut Mental Health Services Expects 10 M Hit
Despite the concerns raised in 2014, efforts to curtail state spending on mental health care in Connecticut have continued over the past five years. Most recently, as reported by FierceHealthcare, the state’s proposed 2020-2021 budget seeks to reduce the amount of financial assistance that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides to uninsured residents in the form of subsidies by more than $4 million over the two-year budget period. While the goal behind the budget cuts is to transition various state-operated programs to private mental health care providers, some worry that the costs of obtaining mental health care in the private sector will ultimately prove to be prohibitive for many individuals.
State officials who are in favor of the budget cuts state that they are the best alternative, and that other options that were on the table would have been even more likely to lead to reductions in the availability and quality of mental health care in Connecticut.
Within the mental health care community, reactions to the proposed budget cuts have been mixed. While the Chief Executive Officerof the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance released a statement of support, saying, “We . . . appreciate the Governor’s forward-looking proposal to begin the shift of some state-run mental health services into the community,” the president of SEIU 1199 has opposed the budget, stating, “Caregivers have raised concerns that implementing this proposal would break the continuum of care provided to residents in need.”
There are other concerns as well, including fear that privatization would mean that many mental health patients would no longer have access to care in their local communities. Instead of being able to visit a local branch office of Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), with privatization, patients may be forced to travel to private mental health providers’ existing offices – and they may not have the financial resources (or community or family support) to do so. As a result, even if the shift to privatization does not result in a decrease in the availability and quality of care, as a practical matter, many patients may still be unable to obtain the care they so desperately need.
While decreasing funding for mental health care overall, the proposed 2020-2021 budget includes $500,000 in consulting fees for multiple state agencies to obtain assistance in examining options for developing and implementing plans to address gaps in the state’s existing substance use disorder treatment programs. State legislators have also proposed a bill that seeks to strengthen oversight of opioid prescriptions, and DMHAS recently received a $5.8 million federal grant earmarked for expanding the accessibility of treatment and recovery support for state residents who are struggling with opioid dependence. Contact our Connecticut mental health attorneys to know more.