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Oklahoma governor to seek more money for mental health services

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: January 23, 2013
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“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.

‘Woodwork effect'

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.