Don’t be cruel: Wyo can afford to treat the mentally ill | Notice

The Wyoming legislature’s puzzling cuts to mental health and addiction treatment budgets will hurt some of the state’s most vulnerable residents – and increase costs to the state – for years to come.

Access to behavioral health assistance was already scarce in Wyoming. Then, the pandemic intensified the needs while erecting additional barriers. Is this really the time for lawmakers to pull the hatchet?

What is perhaps even more unreasonable than the timing is that lawmakers ignored available funding options that made the cuts unnecessary. Meanwhile, a new law to prioritize those eligible for publicly funded treatment will almost certainly exclude many people who depend on services today.

Lawmakers cut state funds for mental health and addiction treatment at Wyoming community behavioral health centers by $ 15 million, a 17% reduction for the next two years that came into effect. effective July 1.

What services have been affected? Outpatient mental health care, which allows people to stay at home and receive help, has been cut by more than 80,000 hours. Outpatient drug treatment has been reduced by more than 15,000 hours.

Forty beds were eliminated from residential mental health treatment centers and 39 beds from residential addiction facilities.

In an April article on the National Institute of Mental Health website, Director Joshua Gordon assessed the impacts of COVID-19. Wyoming lawmakers should be careful.

“As is often the case, unfortunately, the most vulnerable among us feel the effects on mental health most intensely,” Gordon wrote. Factors include job loss, unstable housing, food insecurity, poor health, and loss of family and friends.

“From everything we know, it is clear that these impacts will outlast the pandemic itself,” he added.

In November, Governor Mark Gordon (unrelated to NIMH chief) made $ 5 million in federal funds from the CARES Act available to behavioral health care providers to help meet needs related to the pandemic.

But the governor’s use of those emergency federal funds came two weeks after recommending – and the legislature subsequently approved – cutting the biennial budget by $ 15 million. So while the CARES Act funds were welcome, there is still a gaping $ 10 million hole in the Department of Health’s mental health services budget.

Wyoming’s budget decisions regarding the treatment of the mentally ill often don’t make sense. In 2014, lawmakers cut $ 8 million from services when the state forecast a surplus of $ 238 million and the money was put into savings accounts instead of helping residents.

In 2016, the legislature cut all drug treatment programs in state prisons, despite warnings from experts that it would increase recidivism and costs. Both problems arose and lawmakers reclaimed the funds the following year.

Lawmakers are so eager to cut treatment programs that they ignore the long-term impacts. The most effective treatment occurs when there is early intervention with patients. If they are not insured and / or if treatment funds have been reduced, the risk of homelessness and incarceration is greater.

At 23%, Wyoming has the highest percentage of adults with a mental illness who are uninsured, according to Mental Health America. This figure is more than double the national average.

The organization also claims Wyoming ranks 45th in the United States for access to mental health care.

The most infuriating aspect of Wyoming’s cuts to behavioral health services is that the state has the money to fully fund them. Lawmakers always find ways to create or continue the programs they want, if it is for a riding they deem worthy.

Have the masses demanded a $ 1.2 million litigation fund so Wyoming can sue other states that want to stop using its coal? Of course not. Could behavioral health centers use this money better? You bet they could.

A few lawmakers, bless them, are telling residents the truth: The budget “crisis” that is imposing deep cuts is not really real. Wyoming has over $ 21 billion in eight separate trust accounts, skyrocketing returns on investment funds, and millions of dollars deposited into various savings accounts each year.

“We are a rich state and we have to manage it properly. And we have to be frugal along the way, but we don’t want to be cheap, and we don’t want to be cruel, ”Rep. Jerry Obermueller (R-Casper) explained on House soil in March.

Obermueller, a retired accountant, said Wyoming added $ 1.5 billion to its balance sheet over the past five years. It came as many lawmakers continue to mourn the state’s bankruptcy and the need to cut some budgets.

Another Casper Republican, Rep. Steve Harshman, criticized the way the state does business.

“Are we going to downsize today, today’s seniors, disabled people, so that we can save more money for the future?” ” He asked. “Wyoming is not a poor state. We have been richly blessed and we have challenges to face.

“We can overcome them,” Harshman said. “And with stages that are not very dramatic, frankly.”

Here’s a step Harshman, a former Speaker of the House, recommends: expand Medicaid. This would allow the state to treat low-income adults with mental and physical illnesses who are not currently eligible for Medicaid Medicare or Affordable Care Act subsidies.

I’m sick of hearing Conservative lawmakers say we need to find a ‘Wyoming solution’ to the state’s health problems, when one of the key answers – providing health insurance to the people who desperately have it. need – has been rejected every year since 2013.

How about passing a personal or corporate income tax, or higher sales or property taxes, with some of the new income used to improve the health of needy Wyoming residents?

In addition to cutting funds, this year the legislature passed Bill 38 – Priority Community Populations for Behavioral Health. The measure received strong support: the House approved it with a vote of 37-22, and the Senate, 20-10.

Under the bill, the Department of Health will develop policies to determine who Wyoming gives priority access to publicly funded mental health and addiction treatment.

The plan is still being developed by the ministry, lawmakers and other stakeholders. Some advocate a system that places the highest priority on inmates leaving prison, adults with acute or severe mental illness, and families at risk.

Those in the two lower priority levels would have to meet arbitrary income criteria to even receive treatment. Others would go without services when the money ran out.

I’m not saying this initial list doesn’t include worthy priority populations. But behavioral health centers are currently treating anyone who asks for help. People who cannot pay are not turned away; it is one of the shining principles of how Wyoming provides care today. We don’t need to change it.

Andi Summerville, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Centers, told WyoFile that the new system under HB 38 could potentially cut overall access to treatment in half. This is unacceptable.

“In most places, we don’t have an answer on where these people should go,” she said.

The Equality State has money to provide the necessary treatment to all who need it, and if lawmakers decide that these funds cannot be touched, they can increase tax revenues. Delaying treatment that Wyoming can afford and should provide is both cruel and ultimately more costly than early intervention.

Veteran Wyoming reporter Kerry Drake covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and can be contacted at [email protected]

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