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Medicaid cuts would hurt mentally ill.

Medicaid faces new threats that would undoubtedly harm millions of people with mental disorders and other chronic illnesses. This program comprises more than half of all state and local mental health spending, and without sustained funding, millions of low-income adults and children would be left without critical services.

In April, Congress passed a resolution that could cut federal Medicaid support by at least $10 billion over 5 years. The budget included this pro posed cut despite strong bipartisan opposition in both houses. The Senate passed an amendment striking a $14 billion cut with key Republican support, and 44 House Republicans signed a letter to the budget committee opposing cuts. In addition, 152 House Republicans voted for a provision opposing Medicaid cuts.

Despite that bipartisan support, Republican congressional leaders and Bush administration officials pushed through a plan directing the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which have jurisdiction over Medicaid--to find $10 billion and $14.7 billion in savings, respectively. The resolution does not overtly require those cuts in Medicaid, but it does task the committees with finding the savings. And although both committees preside over other programs, the cuts are intended for Medicaid.

Further fueling threats to Medicaid is the establishment of an advisory Medicaid Commission. The senators and representatives who led the effort to oppose budget cuts to Medicaid called for this commission with the vision of an independent, bipartisan body charged with studying the program and recommending reforms--not necessarily funding cuts.

But it hasn't turned out as some had hoped. The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services will have control over the commission and appoint all members. In addition, the secretary charged the commission with recommending federal Medicaid funding cuts of $10 billion--the very outcome that congressional majorities rejected.

Stripping $10 billion from Medicaid without harming beneficiaries is an impossible task. The states, already struggling under budget constraints, would be unable to absorb such a cut. They would be forced to slash services, limit eligibility, and/or increase copay requirements.

MICHAEL M. FAENZA, M.S.S.W.

MR. FAENZA is president and chief executive officer of the National Mental Health Association in Alexandria, Va.

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Title Annotation:Guest Editorial
Comment:Medicaid cuts would hurt mentally ill.(Guest Editorial)
Author:Faenza, Michael M.
Publication:Family Practice News
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Words:363
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