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Mental-Health Experts on Senate Healthcare Bill: 'Worse Than We Feared'

The National Council for Behavioral Health believes cuts to Medicaid will result in increased costs for police departments, jails and hospital emergency rooms. (paulbr75/Pixabay)
The National Council for Behavioral Health believes cuts to Medicaid will result in increased costs for police departments, jails and hospital emergency rooms. (paulbr75/Pixabay)
June 23, 2017

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It rips the rug out from under Missourians who struggle with addictions and mental illnesses. That's what behavioral health advocates are saying about the U.S. Senate healthcare reform bill released Thursday.

The bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), proposes a dramatic curtailment of Medicaid spending, just like its counterpart from the U.S. House.

Rebecca Farley David, vice president of policy and advocacy for the National Council for Behavioral Health, says the bill is worse than her group feared, leaving states like Missouri that already have budget problems to provide services with fewer dollars.

"When it comes time for Missouri to balance the budget, and they're faced with a federal decreasing share of federal Medicaid spending, what are they going to do to close that budget gap?" she asks.

The National Council for Behavioral Health represents nearly 3,000 mental-health organizations across the country.

Farley David says she appreciates politicians' desire to be fiscally responsible, but she argues that cuts to Medicaid ultimately cost taxpayers more - because people with mental illness and substance-abuse issues will wind up in emergency rooms and jails.

Farley David believes legislators understand the logic of treatment and prevention - but in her view, they're thinking about healthcare in the wrong way.

"In ideological terms, they're thinking about it in terms of their campaign promises," she says. "They're thinking about it in broad strokes. And I think our job is to help people understand kind of the nitty-gritty impact of these big changes."

Senate Republicans have expressed a desire to put the bill to a vote before their July 4 recess.

Kevin Patrick Allen/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - MO