Wilmington, OH – Today, local and state leaders came together in Wilmington to discuss the benefits of extending Medicaid coverage to those with income up to 138% of the federal poverty level (FPL). By extending Medicaid benefits, many individuals needing treatment services for both physical and behavioral health disorders will have coverage for their treatment. Proposed changes will allow adults who have a mental illness or an addiction disorder to receive treatment and supports in an effort to keep them healthy and stable in the community.
Ohio Department of Mental Health Director Tracy Plouck repeatedly has characterized the extension of Medicaid benefits to more citizens as the most important initiative that she’s been involved with in her years of government service. “It means that a lot of the people who are currently served in the safety net system will have access to health care for both physical and behavioral wellness. It will also mean that state allocations and local levy dollars spent today on assessment, counseling and crisis services will be picked by the federal Medicaid program. The local boards can repurpose their dollars toward other kinds of recovery supports, such as housing and employment assistance, respite for families or prevention activities,” said Director Plouck.
Brent Lawyer, Executive Director of the Mental Health Recovery Services (MHRS) of Warren and Clinton Counties, knows that the extension of Medicaid coverage is incredibly important to the people that his board serves. Mr. Lawyer said, “Medicaid extension will mean that many people MHRS currently buys clinical services for will become Medicaid eligible.” In Warren and Clinton counties, Mr. Lawyer said that “[t]his will free up an estimated $1.7 million annually in local and state funds that can now be utilized in other ways to support recovery, like housing, employment and peer supports.”
Access to behavioral health treatment services and recovery supports is a significant challenge for many Ohioans. The stigma surrounding mental illnesses and addiction disorders is part of the challenge to receiving treatment. Gina Lewis shared her story of treatment and challenges after being diagnosed at the age of 29. Ms. Lewis said, “If it wasn’t for being able to receive the treatment, the right medications, and other services when I was diagnosed, I believe my story would not have been as bright. I would have likely been hospitalized or, even worse, put in jail. I believe that it is important for any individual living with a mental illness or an addiction disorder to have access to services to keep them healthy and living in their community. But most importantly I believe that everyone should know: ‘I am not bipolar, I am not an illness. I have bipolar and I am a human being’.”
As Frances Sheard, NAMI Warren County Executive Director described, “When mental illnesses and addiction disorders go untreated, individuals, families and communities suffer. Unfortunately, many families in Ohio have had to stand by and watch while their loved ones have been unable to get the treatment they need, destroying careers, families and lives. This is a real opportunity to help Ohio’s families.”
Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck, Clinton County Common Pleas Court, sees how the extension of Medicaid coverage will impact the criminal justice system in Clinton County. “Clinton County is experiencing an explosion of criminal activity directly attributed to offenders who have both substance abuse and mental health problems,” said Judge Rudduck. “The lack of available local resources, programs, and funding to enable the Courts to mandate and supervise treatment options as an alternative to incarceration, contributes to a seemingly endless cycle of repeat offenders. As a community, we need to do better. Providing these individuals with treatment services and recovery supports will help solve this problem and reduce recidivism.”
Extending Medicaid benefits will also impact the overall healthcare of Ohioans. Dr. Russell Dern, Executive Director, Solutions Community Counseling and Recovery Centers, said “Medicaid extension is an investment in the people of Ohio. There will be a short-term payoff in terms of improved quality of life for people who otherwise would not have adequate access to healthcare. The bigger payoff, however, is years away and will be accomplished through better health habits and better access to preventive care before serious, chronic health problems develop.”
Mayor Randy Riley, City of Wilmington, said, “It’s time we take the issue of providing healthcare coverage to all citizens seriously. Generations ago this county decided that all citizens needed to be educated. Education was seen as a platform to elevate citizens and society to higher achievement. As a result, education became a right of all citizens. It is time to make the same bold step regarding healthcare. All citizens need to be assured that they will never need to face financial disaster because of an illness or injury that happens to them or a family member.”
The event was coordinated by the Mental Health Advocacy Coalition (MHAC) and the Coalition for Healthy Communities. The MHAC, which includes over 100 member organizations, unifies local voices to advocate for people with mental illnesses and addiction disorders and serves as a resource for policy makers and the community through its ongoing advocacy efforts, research and data driven policy analysis and recommendations.