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State mental health budget cuts do not improve the economy

In 2007, mental health services were thriving.

In 2007, mental health services were thriving. According to the Minnesota branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Advocates spark $34 million in new funding for mental health services, including initiatives to expand case management, provide more screening and intervention, develop school-based mental health services, and increase funding for housing, employment, and evidence-based programs.”

Over the next three years, mental health funding took a huge hit. In 2010, according to NAMI, “Funding cuts send mental health system into a tailspin, and the 2007 reforms all but vanish.”

The legislators are taking funds from mental health care to reduce the state budget deficit. The question is, does it really help the economy?

The jobs for people who care for those with mental illness have been decreased through budget cuts. The availability of beds in facilities that care for people with mental illness has been reduced throughout the state.

Longer waits, more emergency-room use …
What does this mean for people who suffer from mental illness? It means that access to care is more difficult. It means longer waits to get care in a community setting. It means more care being accessed through emergency departments. It means not being able to afford medication that could help keep a person healthy and out of the hospital.

With these cuts, care is being provided largely by acute inpatient hospital stays. The lack of beds in facilities means that patients stay for extremely long periods in the hospital. Acute inpatient hospital care is the most expensive form of providing mental health care for people.

The recession reduced the amount of revenue coming in for Minnesota’s health care budgets. This is a result of people spending less money, which decreases the revenue that comes from sales tax and other taxes. However, the number of people needing access to mental health care did not decline and actually increased because of the stress put on people by the economy.

According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last month, “Cuts to state services not only harm vulnerable residents but also worsen the recession —  and dampen the recovery — by reducing overall economic activity. When states cut spending, they lay off employees, cancel contracts with vendors, reduce payments to businesses and nonprofits that provide services, and cut benefit payments to individuals. All of these steps remove demand from the economy. Such measures are reducing not only the level and quality of services available to state residents but also the purchasing power of workers’ families, which in turn affects local businesses and slows recovery.”  

Still more cuts
The Minnesota Senate has introduced an omnibus bill that would cut $268 million in cuts to the Health Care Access Fund. This includes $34 million in cuts to mental health grants that are effective for early intervention and reduction of hospital stays. According to NAMI, the bill “moves everyone who is at 75% of poverty and above from MinnesotaCare to the Minnesota Healthy Contribution program, meaning that people will not have access to a broad range of health care benefits (each plan decides what is covered) and will likely face a $3,000 deductible or more thus effectively making it impossible for people to access basic health and mental health care.”

The Minnesota Republicans state that the proposed House budget cuts to health care will save $1.8 million. Part of the proposal would provide for increase in premiums for Minnesota Care overall — plus create a 100 percent co-pay for brand-name prescription drugs, which mostly include anti-psychotics. Another proposal is to decrease the number of people eligible for Minnesota Care and provide them a stipend to purchase individual insurance. The concern is that people would purchase insurance without provisions for mental health or chemical dependency care. (NAMI)

The way to balance the state deficit is not through these huge budget cuts that, in fact, decrease stimulation of the economy. The way to do it is through increasing revenue, which means increasing taxes.

In an earlier MinnPost article, Gov. Mark Dayton was quoted as stating he would like to take a “balanced approach” to resolving the budget crisis. The story said the approach “would include tax increases on Minnesota’s highest earners. By increasing revenue, he said, some of the cuts Republicans are expected to propose in the coming weeks could be avoided.”

Michelle Oerter-Clark, RN, is a University of North Dakota graduate student.