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Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee Oversight Hearing on Mental Health Cuts: An Opening for Children’s Mental Health

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee Oversight Hearing on Mental Health Cuts: An Opening for Children’s Mental Health

April 9, 2009

This afternoon, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee held a long, and sometimes intense, oversight hearing into the impact of budget cuts on mental health services.

Committee members closely questioned EOHHS Secretary JudyAnn Bigby about how choices of what programs to cut were made. In particular, Rep. Angelo Scaccia (D-Boston) raised concern about the disproportionate burden of the 9c and House 1 cuts on individuals and families served by the Department of Mental Health.

Scaccia said that he was troubled by the danger of cuts to such a vulnerable population. “We never want cuts for the poorest of the poor,” he said, “As a Democrat, these cuts really stick in my craw.”

Following Secretary Bigby to the witness table were Dr. David deMaso of Children’s Hospital Boston, Marylou Sudders of MSPCC, and Lisa Lambert of PAL.

Dr. deMaso spoke about the tremendous cost associated with untreated mental health needs. However, he said, we have an opportunity to prevent mental illness from spiraling to a crisis point through early identification and treatment. The mental health system, he testified, should change its emphasis to one of long-term intervention rather than short term fixes at crisis points.

Lisa Lambert followed up on this testimony by sharing some of the most frequent concerns of parents: the barrier to treatment of high out of pocket expenses such as co-pays, a desire to be assured of the effectiveness of treatment types, and the diverging policies of returning children with mental health needs to their homes versus zero tolerance policies of many schools, which serve to make transition back to the community more difficult for these kids.

Finally, Marylou Sudders spoke of her mixed outlook for kids with mental health needs. On one hand, she said, there is reason to be optimistic because of the very real policy changes that have been enacted recently in the form of Rosie D, mental health parity, and the passage of Chapter 321, An Act Relative To Children’s Mental Health. At the same time, however, she is concerned that the new systems being created through these policies are being built on a crumbling reimbursement infrastructure that does not pay clinicians sufficient rates to allow them to treat those in need.

Throughout the children’s mental health panel, there were many nodding heads among the Mental Health Committee members. House Chair Liz Malia (D-Jamaica Plain) thanked the group for their testimony and asked them to continue to hold the legislature’s feet to the fire on this issue.

During a difficult economic and budgetary time with very little good news on the human services front, today’s hearing was a sorely-needed bright spot.

Matt Noyes
Children's Health Coordinator