With the Sandy Hook shootings still in the public mind, it seems as though every legislator, from the NRA-friendly to the anti-gun, is paying attention to mental health care in America. But lawmakers must also keep an eye on the bigger transformation of the country's mental health system that is already in the works.
According to a 2011 study from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, 60 percent of Americans and 70 percent of U.S. children suffering from mental illness aren't getting treatment. One reason, no doubt, is stigma associated with seeking help for mental rather than physical problems. Another is that out-of-pocket costs and a shortage of mental health professionals limit access.
So, a group of lawmakers led by Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., are proposing to improve community mental health facilities. Under the plan, Medicaid would compensate these facilities more like it does rural health clinics or similar places that provide care for physical ailments. In return, mental health centers, often nonprofit organizations that accept a fair amount of Medicaid money, would have to provide services such as 24-hour crisis psychological treatment and substance abuse programs. Backers say that the proposal would cost about $1.4 billion over 10 years and help about 1.5 million patients. It's a fine plan.