Mental Health Comes Up $1.4 Billion Short

by David Gorn

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According to a study just released by National Alliance on Mental Illness, California spent $587 million fewer dollars on mental health services than it did two years ago.

Add in the $861 million in redirection of Prop. 63 funds in the proposed new budget, and you're looking at a total loss of roughly $1.4 billion in mental health funding. But losses can be dealt with, as long as they're not perpetual budget drains, according to Pat Ryan, executive director of the California Mental Health Directors Association.

"It's very scary," Ryan said. "We have pointed out, the amount of money they're estimating to pay for services [in the new budget restructuring] is already starting out less than we know it costs to provide those services."

If that issue can be resolved, Ryan said, "the best thing to do is move on and make it work. The people I work for, they're very much problem-solvers, they're always making the best out of bad situations," she said. "So we're trying to look for opportunities, but cautious about how it's going to work over the long term."

The state's proposed realignment shifts more responsibility for mental health services to the counties, and provides the cash to make that work. Realigning that $861 million is a different story, Ryan said.

"It's redirecting Prop. 63 funds to backfill state obligations to the counties for mental health funds." Another way you could look at it, she said, is that some Prop. 63 money that belongs to the counties is being used to pay the counties for state services.

"It's interesting," she said.

And the state budget cuts impact mental health services in other ways, as well, according to the new study. For instance, the 10% reduction in Medi-Cal reimbursement will likely cause some providers to stop taking Medi-Cal patients, including some with mental health issues.


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