Statehouse Live: Mental health advocates seek funding after years of budget cuts

? Advocates for those with mental illness on Tuesday described the state’s mental health system as crumbling and urged legislators to restore funding that has been cut over the past few years.

“Our state’s mental health system is not strong enough to meet the demands placed on it,” said Glen Yancey, who is president of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.

“Either we begin to reinvest in it now or we will see the costs of untreated mental illness continue to grow,” Yancey said. “Those costs manifest themselves in more emergency room visits, more incarcerations, more trips to state hospitals and, sadly, more suicides. We starve the mental health system in Kansas at the risk of more broken lives.”

Mental health reform grants have been cut by $20 million, or 65 percent since 2008. Nearly $10 million was cut in 2010 because of Medicaid rate reductions and the system has sustained cuts in other areas as well.

In addition, Yancey said the coalition is extremely concerned over Gov. Sam Brownback’s push to privatize Medicaid by January, saying that he feared cost-cutting will override access to effective treatment options. “The devil is in the details,” Yancey said of the proposal. “Careful implementation and meaningful legislative oversight of Medicaid reform is critical,” he said.

As Yancey said that, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is Brownback’s point man on Medicaid reform, was standing to the side and nodded his head in agreement.

Colyer then spoke next to the crowd of several hundred gathered at the Topeka Performing Arts Center.

He said the goal of transferring Medicaid to managed care companies was to reduce costs and improve health care for the more than 350,000 Kansans who receive services through the state and federally funded program.

“We want to start reforming the system so that we get results,” said Colyer. He said the proposal was “not an old days managed care.” He added, “They (the managed care companies) don’t make any money unless you get services, unless there is patient satisfaction.”