Iowa lawmakers seem close to agreement on mental health redesign

But one senator still says bill is 'minimum first step'

Lawmakers believe that after three years, they have reached general agreement on mental health redesign, including a funding formula to ease the transition from a county-based service delivery system to a regional network that will be fully operational by fiscal 2015.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday unanimously approved Senate File 415, a $159.5 million plan to fund those services, including nearly $11.4 million in stabilization funds to “fill holes” in counties where mental health expenditures will exceed 2014 revenues.

Scott County, for example, would receive more than $2 million under the formula, while Woodbury County would get $353,000 and Linn County would pull down nearly $167,000.

“Every county gets something” under the plan, according to Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, who said it was developed with the House, the Department of Human Services and Iowa State Association of Counties.

The plan also includes $18.4 million in new money. Each county will receive $5 per capita in July, then another distribution of roughly 80 cents to $1.20 per capita in January, Hatch said.

The stabilization funds, in general, help smaller counties more, according to legislative staffers. Bigger counties, with population growth, fared better under a previous plan that treated counties equally.

The House its own mental health redesign plan, but Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, said representatives have been in discussion with Hatch and will wait for the Senate plan.

That’s an encouraging sign to Chuck Palmer, DHS director.

“I think that shows there is enough interest that they are waiting for the Senate to send its bill over,” Palmer said.

“We feel pretty good with it,” Heaton said of SF 415, as amended by the Appropriations Committee April 9.

He’s not concerned that the $29.8 million in stabilization funds are not in the governor’s budget.

“It’s in our budget and we spend less than the governor’s budget,” Heaton said.

Although SF 415 was approved unanimously, some committee members had reservations.

Calling it a “minimum first step,” Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, warned that it could institutionalize “some pretty draconian cuts in services.”

“I don’t think anybody wants to pass mental health redesign and not adequately fund it and have bad outcomes,” he said.

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