Senate, governor to restore mental health funding

The $82 million recently cut from the state’s public mental health services has been virtually replaced in both Gov. Gregoire’s and the state Senate’s budgets.

According to Kitsap Mental Health Executive Director Larry Keller, the Senate gave back the full $82 million over the next two years. In Gov. Gregoire’s budget — $80 million.

Keller, who has been talking to legislators since the beginning of the session, said some changes will still have to be made.

“It depends how it’s distributed, and unfortunately there are other ending-Medicaid issues,” Keller said.

Medicaid is a federally run program that pays healthcare costs — including mental health services — for low-income individuals and families and has been in operation since 1965.

According to Keller, as long as Medicaid patients were properly cared for with the money given to the state by the federal government for that purpose, community mental health organizations could use the “savings” from their Medicaid managed care program to pay for services for those not on Medicaid.

But according to a 1997 federal law, states can use Medicaid money only for Medicaid patients and services.

Many states, Washington included, had been using their extra Medicaid money to pad their community mental health budget. Last year, the money accounted for 89 percent of the budget. This year, the feds put a stop to the practice and a $2.2 billion state budget hole virtually ensured not all the $82 million lost will be reallocated.

Keller said he is pleased by the amount that has been reinvested.

“It’s a giant step in the right direction,” Keller said. “I think that the legislators realize that if they don’t take care of the severely mentally ill, emergency rooms visits will increase, the number of arrests will increase and even homelessness will increase.”

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