Iowa Senate OKs nearly $43M for mental health

DES MOINES – The Iowa Senate sought Tuesday to direct more money toward a new regionalized mental health care system, and the sponsor of the measure cited the recent school shootings in Connecticut as a reason for states to be aggressive in combatting mental illness.

Under the bill approved by the Senate Tuesday, the state would pay about $43 million in state funding over the next fiscal year for counties to administer mental health services not covered by Medicaid. That represents a $13 million increase from a measure advanced last week in a Senate committee.

“We’re raising the stakes,” said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who introduced the amendment. “In light of Sandy Hook, of Newtown disaster, we don’t want anybody to say in Iowa that we didn’t give a full commitment.”

Hatch said the program would be administered regionally but delivered locally, adding it was important for the state to foot the bill.

It’s the next step in funding a plan approved last year that changes how mental health services are coordinated. In the old system, those services were coordinated by individual counties, and the level of service varied. Now, counties are forming into mental health regions, which will administer state funding more equally to the counties and mandate which services must be available.

Under the new plan, the state will pick up the bill for Medicaid services and appropriate some state money to subsidize county budgets so everyone provides the same non-Medicaid services.

The Senate plan designates $11.7 million for counties expected to be short on cash in the next fiscal year so they can continue serving residents with mental health issues. Another $31.4 million will be given out based on expected population growth of each county.

Gov. Terry Branstad did not designate any money in his budget for this part of redesign.

“This doesn’t really provide any more services at all … it provides more funding but it’s not tied to particular services,” said David Roederer, the state budget director.