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Kasich Medicaid expansion would improve mental illness care

Tom Jackson • Feb 23, 2013 at 6:25 AM

Kasich has proposed accepting federal money to expand Medicaid to cover more people. If the Ohio General Assembly approves the plan — at least some Republicans have expressed skepticism — Medicaid eligibility would be enlarged to accept people at up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In addition, single men and women who don’t have children would also become eligible.

“This will basically cover people who had no coverage at all in the past, including men who were not custodial fathers of minor children,” said Kirk Halliday, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Erie and Ottawa Counties.

“The Medicaid expansion would be a real bonus,” said Cheri Walter, CEO of the Ohio Association of Community Behavioral Health Authorities, which represents agencies such as Halliday’s. “If the Medicaid expansion goes through, it will really put more money into our system than we’ve had in a very long time.”

The governor’s proposal would add an estimated 505,000 Ohioans to the Medicaid rolls, said Robert Runyon, president of the Ohio Association of Community Health Centers. About 2 million Ohioans are now covered by Medicaid.

Agencies that have a mental health levy would be able to free up money spent on newly eligible patients, providing services that Medicaid doesn’t cover, Runyon said.

Walter said one interesting proposal in the governor’s budget is to move people with mental health problems out of nursing homes into other residential settings.

“We’re all trying to figure out exactly how that will work,” Walter said. “It’s something that will allow for additional folks to get housing services.”

The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Erie and Ottawa Counties operates a residential living center, Beacon House, on Venice Road in west Sandusky, which can house about a dozen people.

“People need residences in a whole range of levels of independence,” Halliday said.

Kasich also wants to merge two government agencies, the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, into one agency. The merger would take place this summer.

The merger makes sense, because there is a large overlap between people with chronic mental health issues and people with substance abuse issues, Halliday said.

The two groups overlap as much as 70 percent, he said.

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