Oklahoma mental health agency's budget cuts serve as launching pad for fierce debate

Amid a crowd of more than 200 people, mental health providers fiercely debated Wednesday the impact that a proposed change in Medicaid behavioral health services will have on some of the poorest children and adults in the state.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: June 11, 2014
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This proposal is a response to the Legislature allocating the department a similar budget to last year's amount, even though leaders argue they needed more to supplement about $21 million in federal funding the department won’t receive in the coming fiscal year.

In January, Terri White, the state’s mental health commissioner, told a room full of lawmakers during her budget proposal at the Capitol that more than 7,000 Oklahomans could lose mental health services if the Legislature didn’t allocate an additional $21 million for her agency’s budget.

Jeff Dismukes, the spokesman at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said there were no good decisions when it came to cutting services, but when weighing all options, the proposed rule change concerning mental health psychosocial rehabilitation services was the best of many very difficult choices.

“Unfortunately, the services we provide are for the sickest of the sick, and for those with critical illness,” Dismukes said. “You try to make sure you preserve the services that are most critical for all Oklahomans.”

A cut in the rate that the state pays mental health professionals for the services they provide Medicaid patients was not an option any board member would discuss.

Mental health providers are paid between 70 percent and 75 percent of what Medicare pays, less than physicians who are paid about 96 percent of Medicare.

Melissa Williams, a therapist at DaySpring Community Services in Tulsa, said she was worried that the rule change would disproportionately affect black children.

Williams said many black families that she works with are hesitant to take their children to inpatient mental health services because of their distrust of government systems.

“In the black community, growing up, we’ve always been taught, what happens at home stays at home,” Williams said. “And when it comes to the system, there’s a mistrust there, and it goes back for generations. Most minorities think, ‘OK, if I send my child to inpatient, DHS is going to think I’m a bad parent.’”


by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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Upcoming meeting

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority board will discuss the proposal at a meeting 1 p.m. June 26.

Unfortunately, the services we provide are for the sickest of the sick, and for those with critical illness.”

Jeff Dismukes,
Spokesman at

Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

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