Oklahoma is struggling with yet another overwhelming budget deficit — $868 million this year. As a result, there may be severe cuts that limit access to quality mental health and substance abuse treatment when a loved one needs it most.
During these uncertain and challenging times, we hope the Governor and all lawmakers remember the Governor’s own words from her State of the State address: “While we are fixing our broken health care system, we can never take our attention away from preventing illness in the first place.” We could not agree more. This is why prevention is at the heart of our Eight Legislative Priorities for 2017:
1. Improve Access to Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) has taken major funding cuts in recent years due to revenue failures and reduced budgets for all Oklahoma agencies. These cuts were made to provider rates for most all forms of services, including psychiatric residential treatment, licensed behavioral health practitioners, and psychologists. As a result of these cuts, providers also lost federal reimbursement for services. The statewide community mental health center network was also financially challenged by these financial shortfalls. ODMHSAS estimates that the total impact to Oklahoma rural communities is $17.8 million. More importantly, people were less able than ever to access essential mental health and addiction treatment services in a state which has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the nation, yet spends half the national average to treat it. With this mind, the Association supports:
Increased funding to ODMHSAS, focusing particularly on funding which directly expands services through community mental health centers as well as providers in private practice.
Making best use of all federal funds available for Oklahomans who are currently underinsured or uninsured by whatever means, including expansion of Insure Oklahoma.
Increased workforce training programs and strategies that increase the number of providers (psychiatrists, psychologists, LPCs, MSWs, and so forth) and incentivizes their practice in geographic areas and/or for populations where there are shortages of available mental health professionals.
Stimulating innovative practices and programs in the health care delivery and the payment system which better integrates medical and mental health services into the primary care setting.
The governor’s proposed $1.50 increase in the state’s cigarette tax. The additional funding would help expand the Insure Oklahoma program, which would also include those state dollars to be matched with significant additional dollars from the federal government. This expansion of Insure Oklahoma should increase access to critical mental health services.
2. Support Policies Designed to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse
The Association supports strategies that focus on the prescriber while also increasing treatment options as alternatives to incarceration for those who are caught in a cycle of addiction.
Governor Fallin has proposed $25 million additional dollars to be provided to ODMHSAS for criminal justice-related initiatives. We hope this means there will be increased opportunities for mental health services and substance-abuse treatment as alternatives to incarceration through diversion, such as the Women in Recovery program in Tulsa. However, it’s unclear how that money might be applied and to which one of the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force recommendations it will apply.
The Governor has proposed a $50 million bond issue to fund new wings at a men’s and women’s prison dedicated to treatment and rehabilitation of substance abuse offenders. We liken this to the circumstance in which the Tulsa County bond issue was proposed and passed by the voters that built the new mental health pods for the Tulsa jail. The Association supported the bond issue and that proposal. Of course, we cannot help but wonder how much good could be done with $50 million in helping people access treatment so they never actually end up behind bars for nonviolent offenses in the first place.
3. Oppose Any Effort Which Would Diminish the Ability of a Criminal Defendant to Seek a Verdict of “Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity”
We must keep the judicial system that allows the opportunity for judgment between the alternatives of imprisonment or treatment in a forensic psychiatric setting.
4. Monitor the Implementation of the Labor Commissioner Mark Costello Act (Assisted Outpatient Treatment)
We advocate for expansion of the law to include those who may have previously been or are currently receiving their treatment in the private sector and not only through a publicly funded community mental health center or only being released from incarceration.
5. Support Mental Health Treatment for Older Oklahomans
We support the removal of any legal or regulatory obstacle that serves as a barrier for older adults with a mental illness with or without other chronic medical disorders to secure high quality, medically appropriate care in a residential facility should the need arise for long-term care services whether publicly funded or not.
6. Support Criminal Justice Reform that Includes Alternatives to Incarceration
We particularly support those measures which ensure access to needed mental health treatment for offenders
We advocate for complete implementation of state questions 780 and 781 and resist any effort to weaken these measures which were overwhelmingly endorsed by the Oklahoma voters. The Association opposes these two bills that would significantly weaken SQ 780:
SB256: It modifies the punishments related to possession of controlled dangerous substances, excluding marijuana, and instructs these punished individuals to participate in a drug substance abuse evaluation and assessment program
SB398: It amends language related to drug offenses, modifies penalties and provides alternatives to confinement.
7. Support Public Funding, Tax Incentives, and any Other Legislative or Regulatory Measures which Positively Impact on Developing Needed, Affordable Housing
In the previous legislative session, Oklahoma policymakers attempted to find revenue by eliminating the vast number of tax incentives which have made their way into law over a great many years. While we favor substantive review of the value of each incentive and, likely, would support doing away with or reducing many which serve no or little useful economic purpose for our state, we oppose wholesale elimination. In those laws are ones which encourage private developers to build affordable housing in Oklahoma, a need for the many who are financially poorer, often due to mental illness or other disabilities.
8. Advocate for implementation of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (2008) and related statutes in Oklahoma
This is accomplished in part by working collaboratively with the Oklahoma Department of Insurance to ensure there is full compliance with applicable laws by health care insurers operating in our state.Support public funding, tax incentives, and any other legislative or regulatory measures which positively impact on developing needed, affordable housing throughout Oklahoma.