Two-thirds of States Cut Mental Health Care Funding

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March 9, 2011; Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness | Mental health issues are always with us, and exacerbated during times of economic crisis and overseas wars. One would think that this is a time for states to increase their funding for mental health care, but that isn't the case. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, two-thirds of states have cut their funding for mental health care during the past three years.

Only 17 states have increased mental health care funding, but for 10 of them the increases were 4 percent or less. The result is a nation-wide loss of $1.8 billion in mental health funding in less than three years.

The NAMI report addresses non-Medicaid – that is, nonfederal funding for mental health services paid for with state general funds. But adding in Medicaid cuts will make the situation much worse. For example, with the expiration of Medicaid support for mental health care in June of 2011, Oregon will lose $156 million after having increased mental health funding by $57 million during the past three years.

The drumbeat of state budget cuts described in the NAMI report hasn't abated. According to the AP, Texas is talking about a 20 percent cut that would eliminate services to 2,800 youth and adults in 8 central Texas counties, Tennessee is closing community health centers, Kansas may be forcing 9 out of 27 community mental health centers out of business, and Massachusetts is contemplating eliminating a quarter of beds in state psychiatric hospitals.

It would not be crying wolf to suggest that cuts of this magnitude are going to whack nonprofit community mental health clinics and other providers who are life supports for this vulnerable population. Readers might find the state rankings particularly ominous. The top mental health budget cutter for 2009-2011 by percentage cut? Kentucky, cutting its mental health care budget by almost half, followed by Alaska (35 percent) and Arizona and South Carolina (both 22.7 percent) and pre-Scott Walker Wisconsin (22.4 percent).

Ranked by gross size of the cut, California way leads the list (-$587.4 million), followed by Kentucky ($193.7 million), New York ($132.0 million), Illinois ($113.7 million), Arizona ($108.4 million), and Wisconsin ($107.1 million). The numbers tell the story.—Rick Cohen