ANNAPOLIS – In a compromise struck Friday, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to advance a proposal to ensure funding for mental health services under Medicaid changes in a sweeping health care reform bill.
Mental health advocates lobbied hard Thursday for the committee to earmark mental health funding in a Medicaid expansion bill that would raise $70 million from a health maintenance organization tax.
“We want to make sure money gets transferred to the Mental Hygiene (Administration) budget,” said Lori Doyle, public policy director for Community Behavioral Health Association.
Although the tax funds would cover another 76,000 Medicaid recipients, mental health money was not specified in that provision, leaving the Mental Hygiene Administration vulnerable to even larger deficits as it tries to absorb new patients, Doyle said.
Based on an estimate of $5,000 per Medicaid recipient who receives mental health services, Doyle said as much as $25 million would be needed to cover the expanded group of recipients.
The department assured the committee it intended the funds to cover mental health services, allowing the committee to change the bill.
The new language, scheduled for a vote today, clarifies that money will be transferred from the tax fund to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for specialty mental health services provided under the Medicaid program expansion.
Mental health services are used by 13 percent of Maryland’s Medicaid population, Doyle said, but the mental health budget does not get a proportional amount of Medicaid funds.
The last time Medicaid was expanded was the Maryland Children’s Health Insurance Program, Doyle said, sending children’s use of mental health services in the program skyrocketing.
The department has cut costs drastically to bring mental health services within its current budget, rather than providing more money to completely cover higher usage.
A series of changes to the bill since it was introduced expanded services provided to Medicaid recipients, but reduced the number of people affected by the measure, a move advocates support.
“Anybody who gets benefits should get full coverage,” said Vincent Demarco, president of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich has indicated he will not support the bill as long as it contains an HMO tax, though he approves of its goals.