Gov. Mary Fallin, concerned by last month's school shootings in Connecticut, is recommending more money for Oklahoma's mental health agency.
Fallin said the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings have caused lawmakers and policymakers across the country to look at mental health services.
The incident “reminds us what can happen when mental health issues go unaddressed in a state or undiagnosed or frankly ignored,” Fallin said Wednesday.
She told reporters during a legislative forum sponsored by The Associated Press she will ask lawmakers to allocate an additional $16 million for the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Department, which received $193.3 million this fiscal year.
She is recommending the extra money pay for a third community crisis center in the state and beef up funding of programs intended to reduce suicide and prescription drug abuse. She also wants money to go to a program that helps children and families with children who are suffering serious emotional issues.
“In my executive budget, I will propose that we will strengthen and expand the services so that more Oklahomans can get treatment for the needs of substance abuse, depression and a variety of other mental health issues,” said Fallin, who since being elected governor in 2010 has backed funding of mental health services.
“We can do a better job of assessing an issue that a person might have as it relates to a behavioral issue — whether it's a mental health issue, a substance abuse issue or whether they have some criminal behavior within themselves,” she said. “And where does that person really belong? Do they belong in a mental health facility? Do they belong in a correctional facility? Or do they need treatment for some type of substance abuse problem?”
She also said she would seek an additional $40 million to pick up Medicaid costs for about 61,000 Oklahomans who are eligible for Medicaid but are not enrolled in the health care program.
Fallin will present her budget request of nearly $7 billion to lawmakers Feb. 4, the first day of this year's session. It's estimated legislators will have about $170 million more to appropriate this year compared with last year.
Fallin and lawmakers agreed last year to increase the mental health agency's budget by $6.2 million; $3 million went to the agency's Systems of Care program, which consists of community-based services dealing with the needs of children, adolescents and their families who have a serious emotional disturbance; and $2.5 million was earmarked to create a 16-bed community crisis center.
Mental Health Commissioner Terri White, who requested five centers last year, said developing community partnerships resulted in the agency being able to develop two centers — one in Tulsa and one in Ardmore. The centers will provide treatment to those suffering psychotic disorders and will offer an alternative to people going to hospital emergency rooms, where the cost is more expensive. Law officers, many of whom now travel long distances to take mentally ill inmates to get treatment, also will be able to use the centers.
“I'm really excited about her continued commitment to this,” White said of Fallin. “Not only is the investment the right thing to do for Oklahomans in need, but we're going to see that it is absolutely the right thing to do for taxpayers because investing in prevention and treatment costs our citizens less, and we have better outcomes than if we wait and deal with the consequences.
“We know that some of the most dire consequences are things like overdose deaths, suicides and — while we hope and pray that it never happens here — tragedies like we've seen nationally recently,” White said. “But when we leave mental illness and addiction untreated, we know that that's a risk we run every single day.”
She said 70 percent of adults in Oklahoma, or about 380,000, who need mental health treatment and 78 percent, or more than 245,000, in need of substance abuse services aren't getting the mental health services they need. About 40 percent of the state's youth who need mental health services and 80 percent who need substance abuse treatment don't receive it.
A three-year federal grant that has been paying for suicide prevention services is set to expire, White said, so she said she is heartened to hear Fallin pledge money for that program. It would be the first time state money would be spent on suicide prevention programs, she said.
“The timing is incredibly fortuitous that we're looking at investing some state dollars in this much-needed practice,” White said.
Fallin also is proposing an additional $40 million to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which manages the state's Medicaid program, to cover the costs of what is called the “woodwork effect.” When big parts of the health law go into effect in 2014, it likely will bring out of the woodwork people who are already eligible for Medicaid but aren't already enrolled.
It's estimated about 61,000 Oklahomans, 44,000 children and 17,000 adults are eligible for Medicaid but are not enrolled, Health Care Authority spokeswoman Jo Kilgore said.
It's expected the $40 million would cover the cost of adding those people onto the Medicaid system, said Carter Kimble, a spokesman for the agency.
It's expected about 636,000 Oklahomans don't have health insurance, and it's estimated nearly 787,000 are on the Medicaid program.
Fallin reiterated Wednesday her decision not to accept federal money to expand the state Medicaid program.
Accepting the money would put the state at risk of total costs of up to $689 million over the next several years. The Medicaid money is authorized under the federal Affordable Care Act. The state already spends $1 billion a year on Medicaid.
The law states the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the benefit cost of the expansion for the first three years before gradually shifting costs to the state. The state costs would cap at 10 percent in 2020. It's estimated nearly 200,000 low-income Oklahomans would have qualified for Medicaid coverage under the expanded coverage.