House approves money for mental health transition
DES MOINES – Iowa House lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would give some counties a share of $11.6 million to continue treatment of mental health patients as the state transitions to a regional system.
The measure, which now moves to the Senate, would give money to 26 of the 32 counties seeking extra help to get them through this fiscal year.
The Department of Human Services selected counties with the most need based on their budgets. Polk County, the state’s largest, and others wouldn’t get funding because officials say they can manage without help.
Democrats caucused for more than an hour before the bill came up for discussion.
Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, asked the House to provide $20 million instead, which would cover all counties seeking funding. House Republicans killed Heddens’ amendment 53-47.
“I thought we were about providing services, not cutting services,” Heddens said during debate.
With the lower figure, 950 people in Polk County could lose treatment, said Lynn Ferrell, mental health administrator in the county. Of those, 700 would be minors with disorders like autism.
“I can’t fathom the logic that says we want to start a newly redesigned system with all the regions in a state of bankruptcy and an insolvent situation at the beginning of next year,” Ferrell said.
For years, county mental health departments chose the quantity and quality of services provided.
Last May, the Legislature approved changes to Iowa’s mental health treatment system, shifting from one run by counties to a more regional approach in which counties pool their money. The new approach was meant to minimize differences between urban and rural areas.
Many counties are struggling financially as a result of county supervisors cutting budgets back and the state cracking down on counties late in paying back $42 million in unpaid Medicaid bills.
The bill stipulates the $11.6 million would be appropriated from a one-time federal grant made last year but those federal dollars cannot be used to pay back Medicaid. Counties would be responsible for using that money wisely or be subjected to a federal audit.