To the editor:
The Journal-World should be commended for shining a light on the problems caused by a lack of services for the mentally ill (in its “Jail challenge” editorial of Oct. 9). Housing the mentally ill in jails is extremely costly, both to their health and to the public purse.
Fortunately, help may be on the way. Many people with mental illness end up in jail because they don’t get the health care services and medications they need. Why not? Because they don’t have health insurance.
Under the Affordable Care Act, more than 240,000 currently uninsured Kansans will get insurance coverage. In Douglas County, this means as many as 11,000 more people will be insured. There will still be barriers to mental health care, but a lack of health insurance will no longer be one of them.
Of course, for these benefits to be realized, the ACA must be implemented. And that will require that Gov. Brownback and the Legislature choose to expand the Medicaid program, the likely avenue of coverage for much of the mentally ill population.
The cost to the state of expanding Medicaid, estimated by the Kaiser Family Foundation at $166 million from 2014-2019, is not trivial. This investment, however, will return nearly $3.5 billion in new federal dollars and allow savings in other parts of state and local budgets, such as the cost of housing huge numbers of mentally ill patients in our jails and prisons.
Medicaid expansion is good for those with mental health needs and good for the state.