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Last Minute Effort Fails To Stop Mental Health Funding Cuts

Mid South Health System says its facilities may close due to cuts
Sarah Whites-Koditschek
Arkansas Public Media
Mid South Health System says its facilities may close due to cuts

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Funding cuts for mental health services through Medicaid are taking effect October 1, despite a last-ditch effort at the state legislature Friday to walk back a change that some say could have dire consequences.

The cuts, finalized last week, would limit group therapy length from an hour and a half to an hour and set a cap of 25 counseling visits per year for Medicaid recipients who might otherwise go every week.

The vote to revisit the decision failed to gain two thirds from the Arkansas Legislative Council Friday morning.

Democratic Senator Linda Chesterfield from Pulaski County says the state needs more mental health funding, not less.

“The person may then go into some traumatic state, and we end up spending more money than we did on the front end. It’s time for us to stop trying to dictate medical care and leave it to those who are the professionals.”

Advocates have expressed concern because Arkansas’s lockdown facilities rely on group therapy Medicaid funding codes. Those lockdowns house Act 911 patients, people who were not given criminal convictions because they are deemed mentally ill.

Republican Representative David Meeks from the Conway area says he believes providers will still be able to request extra treatment on a person-by-person basis.

"I think overall, you should not see any facilities close down because you will see the folks that need it either get the services or the authorization for the services they need.”

Ruth Allison Dover runs the Mid-South Community Mental Health Center. She says her lockdown facilities, which run around the clock, will require a per-diem funding rate as a result of the cuts.

Dover says she hopes lawmakers will provide the new funding alternative. 

“This is now the opportunity the state has to sit down with us and make a plan for how we care for 911s in the state.”

Republican Senator John Cooper from Jonesboro says he is on the Public Health Committee,  which voted to reject the cuts, only to have the Rules and Regulations Committee pass them. He says they did so without listening to experts first.

Sen. Cooper says lawmakers like himself didn’t realize what they were voting for in last Friday's council meeting because of procedural maneuvers that he called, "concerning."

“Time after time after time we hear people pushing these rules. We never hear this. We never hear the other side, and we didn’t today.”

Representative Meeks says, for him, there has been plenty of discussion of the issue. 

Copyright 2016 KUAR

Sarah Whites-Koditschek
Sarah Whites-Koditschek is a Little Rock-based reporter for Arkansas Public Media covering education, healthcare, state politics, and criminal justice issues. Formerly she worked as a reporter and producer for WHYY in Philadelphia, and was an intern and editorial assistant for Morning Edition at National Public Radio in Los Angeles and Washington D.C.