Disabilities, Behavioral Health and Substance Use Providers Face Budget Woes
By Sawida Kamara, Staff Consultant, Maryland Nonprofits
This post is the second in a series focused on highlights from the 2015 Legislative Preview. View the previous post here.
Legislative priorities for service providers were presented by representatives from the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland (CBH), the Maryland Association of Community Services (MACS) and the Maryland Addictions Directors Council (MADC) at the 2015 Legislative Preview.
Lori Doyle, Director of Public Policy at CBH, discussed challenges to provide mental health services due to continuing budget cuts. She outlined that as a result of increased demand for services that exceed capacity, the closing or downsizing of agency programs, challenges in attracting and retaining a qualified workforce, and the lack of capital to invest in infrastructure such as electronic health records, the foremost priority for behavioral health is to prevent and reduce further budget cuts for agencies and programs serving children and adults who use Maryland’s public mental health system (PMHS). Community mental health programs serving the 160,000 children and adults using the PMHS have received inflationary adjustments in only 5 of the past 18 years. A budgeted increase of 4% on January 1, 2015 would be the sixth adjustment in 19 years, and CBH and its members are calling for the Hogan Administration and other State elected officials to protect this annual adjustment, per the SB633/HB1034 legislation passed in 2010. Other key priorities put forth by CBH include the need to recognize and support the role of behavioral health in meeting the new Medicare waiver requirements, to expand the use of telehealth, to allow for more creative reimbursement mechanisms such as “health homes”, and for Maryland to apply to participate as one of eight states in a two-year national pilot program based on the Excellence in Mental Health Act.
Similar to CBH, Laura Howell, Executive Director of MACS, outlined that preventing and reducing budget cuts that impact people with developmental disabilities are at the forefront of their priorities. In the 2014 Legislative Session, MACS successfully garnered the support of the Maryland General Assembly to include a statutory mandate for an annual 3.5% rate increase for developmental disabilities direct support wages from FY 2016 through FY 2019 in Governor O’Malley’s minimum wage bill. This mandate ensured that the Governor’s budget includes funding for direct support wages at approximately 130% of the minimum wage, and also ensured that community providers receive funding for inflationary costs not related to direct support wages. MACS plans to work with the Hogan Administration and the Legislature to get this bill implemented in FY 2016.
Lynn Albizo, Director of Public Affairs at the MADC, discussed their legislative priorities for 2015 will focus on ensuring that the State maintains sufficient funding for substance use disorders (SUD) treatment services at all levels—from outpatient to residential, programs for children and adolescents, uninsured individuals and other key populations—especially in light of Maryland’s growing heroin epidemic. Heroin is having a devastating impact on people across the state, and the fastest growing group of people using heroine are white, middle-aged women. Albizo outlined the MADC will also focus on the growing SUD workforce shortage crisis. To address this shortage, MADC will advocate for reducing the major barriers to the licensing and credentialing of SUD professionals including working with the Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists and higher education partners to develop legislation that removes the various barriers found in the current statute. MADC will also work in collaboration with professional credentialing/licensing boards to educate, coordinate and facilitate improved access to all health professionals who treat people with SUD. Lastly, MADC will advocate for the provision of financial incentives for behavioral health professionals who provide SUD treatment in especially high shortage areas.
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