Medicaid Cuts Would Hurt Mentally Ill

Article excerpt

Medicaid is facing dramatic new threats that would undoubtedly harm millions of people with mental disorders and other chronic illnesses who rely on it for necessary services. This program currently comprises more than half of all state and local mental health spending, and without sustained funding, millions of low-income adults and children will be left without critical services.

In late April, Congress passed a budget resolution that could reduce federal Medicaid support by at least $10 billion over 5 years. The budget included this proposed cut despite strong bipartisan opposition in both houses of Congress. The Senate passed an amendment striking a $14 billion cut with key Republican support, and 44 House Republicans signed a letter to the budget committee chairman opposing cuts. In addition, 152 House Republicans voted for a provision opposing Medicaid cuts.

Despite that bipartisan support, Republican congressional leaders and Bush administration officials pushed through a budget directing the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee--the committees with jurisdiction over Medicaid--to find $10 billion and $14.7 billion in savings, respectively. This budget resolution does not overtly require those cuts in Medicaid, but it does task the committees with the job of finding the savings.

Further fueling federal funding threats to Medicaid is the establishment of an advisory Medicaid Commission. The senators and representatives who led the effort to oppose budget cuts to Medicaid called for this commission with the vision of an independent, bipartisan body charged with studying the program and recommending reforms--not necessarily funding cuts.

But the commission is not turning out as supporters had hoped. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services will have firm control over the commission and will appoint all members. The secretary charged the commission primarily with recommending ways to reduce federal Medicaid funding by $10 billion--the very outcome that congressional majorities rejected. …