Ohio Medicaid Move Hits Drug, Mental Health Help
Rejecting the expansion of health care coverage for more low-income Ohioans will mean the loss of $700 million over the next two years for medical care and treatment programs for people with mental illness or substance abuse problems, the governor's administration says.
Advocates of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's proposal to expand Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health law say turning down the expansion will have a ripple effect on state and county agencies that deal with people who are uninsured and battling addictions and mental illness.
"There is a great deal at stake," said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
Expanding treatment programs, she said, could help keep people out of jail and allow counties to free up money they spend on mental illness or substance abuse programs.
Republicans in the Ohio House this past week removed the Medicaid expansion from the upcoming state budget while agreeing to continue discussing health coverage for the poor and adding $100 million over the next two years for mental health and substance abuse.
Opponents of Medicaid expansion fear being stuck with the long-term costs of the program, which now is being paid for mainly by the federal government. Many conservatives also are philosophically against the idea of expanding government programs and opposed to the federal health care law that calls for mandated health coverage.
What happens next with Medicaid is up to the state Senate.
Greg Moody, director of the Governor's Office of Health Transformation, says the needs of those with mental health problems and addictions are much bigger than $50 million a year.
The administration estimates its plan would provide $627 million annually for those two areas once the Medicaid expansion takes full effect.
Estimates show that about 215,000 people in Ohio would be eligible for substance abuse treatment if the state expanded Medicaid, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
That's more than double the current number now in treatment programs.
"These are real people, with real families who are struggling around an issue that we're all familiar with, which is you can't get the care that you need because you're uninsured," said Ed Hughes, who runs the Counseling Center in Portsmouth, one of the region's largest addiction-counseling centers.
For years, the area that sits along the Ohio River across from Kentucky was home to more than a dozen pill mills, cash-only clinics that distributed prescriptions on demand to addicts based on bare bones examinations.
Hughes said he was excited about the possibility of being able to treat and see more clients.
"We see people dying, literally dying," Hughes said, referring to those who may have tried to access their services for help and later die of drug overdoses. Others, he said, end up in jail.