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EDITORIAL: Mental Health Legislature needs to fix treatment funding

Free Press - 1/26/2024

Jan. 26—Kids needing mental health treatment in Minnesota wait for days in emergency rooms. When kids and adults do get care, the providers are paid about 74% of what the government would pay for Medicaid patients. Woefully inadequate.

A recent study examining the Minnesota mental health system shows it's significantly underfunded while demand is overwhelming providers and the result has been the long waits for therapy and costly emergency room visits. Children's Health in Minneapolis reported some 1,700 children admissions to emergency rooms for mental health concerns in 2018. That number has since nearly doubled, according to a report in the Star Tribune.

While the current rate from the Department of Human Services for residential substance abuse treatment is about $79.84 per day, the study recommended the level should be nearly triple that at $216.90. per day.

Minnesota's formula for reimbursement is not based on costs providers face or quality of care. It has been set arbitrarily, according to Kristy Graume with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, according to the Star Tribune report.

And there is no way the state can triple its reimbursement rate, given a budget that will be flat or possibly in deficit in the next two years, according to Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, and chair of the House and Human Services Finance Committee.

"We will do everything in our ability and power to increase rates," he told the Star Tribune, adding: "I don't want to disappoint anybody — we don't have any budget capacity to do the rate increases that were reflected in this study, but we'll keep working together."

DHS experts say the state should adopt the Medicare formula for reimbursement, noting that the current state rates are unsustainable. The lack of funding leaves patients without treatment, and their care ends up being more costly as they end up in emergency rooms or jail.

Funding mental health care at reasonable rates for providers should be a top priority in the next legislative session. A Free Press in-depth report on mental health last year showed high demand for services locally and long wait times. It showed a state system of reimbursement fraught with delays and bottlenecks.

Some progress has been made. Last year, the Legislature boosted funding for mental health services, especially in schools. It approved establishment of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Centerfor Rural Behavioral Health at Minnesota State University. That institute will train mental health practitioners and provide mental health services.

But it's obvious more needs to be done. Tackling the reimbursement rate will not be an easy lift, and while funding may be tight, legislators should consider the costs, human and financial, that will be incurred by all if the system continues to fail patients who need help.

You can find mental health resources by Googling "mental health resources + mankatofreepress.com" or going to this site: https://www.mankatofreepress.com/news/local_news/mental-health-resources/article_4e4c0286-fb3f-11eb-8e4b-cf780c9a480d.html

For the nationwide 24 hour, 7 day a week mental health help line dial or text 988 or to chat go to 988lifeline.org/chat.

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