After Being Ignored by Local Government, Southern California Residents March in Sacramento to Fight for Equal Funding For Health Care for Mental Illness

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After Being Ignored by Local Government, Southern California Residents March in Sacramento to Fight for Equal Funding For Health Care for Mental Illness

Ladera Ranch, CA / / ACCESSWIRE / May 13, 2014 / Today, just two days after mother's day, Jennifer Hoff, the mom of an incarcerated mentally ill adult son, joined in the Right 2 Treatment march on the lawn of California's capital, fighting for equality in public health care funding for mental illnesses. "The excuse of there is no money in the budget" is a hard sell to parents like her who assert that 20% the 14 billion raised by Prop 63 (millionaires tax) was intended to be utilized on individuals who are seriously mentally ill.  As states plan to cut billions of dollars in mental health services, California is in a unique position having billions in a guaranteed tax revenue earmarked for the seriously mentally ill, yet hundreds of thousands of Californians diagnosed with SMI are left to fall through the cracks of an already strained and limited system of health care delivery despite a consistent revenue stream.  This has mothers like Jennifer especially frustrated.

"Raising a mentally ill child was easy compared to navigating the system of care after the age 18 cliff," says Hoff. "Counties control Billions in tax revenue sans oversight  …HIPPA laws prevented us from keeping our son safe and healthy."

Now with psychiatric hospitals closing at such a high rate, Congress recently held hearings on our National Crisis "where did all the patients go." With lack of beds, a crisis for those in an acute episode, sick individuals often find themselves in an exhausting cycle of seeking relief from symptoms in the ER and being boarded in hallways, sometimes for days or a week before being transferred to a facility equipped to meet their medical needs.

"Imagine having a heart attack and the ER telling you that there are no beds in the entire nation to be found so you must wait in the hall, says Hoff. This is the reality of thousands of individuals today as they seek intensive, life saving treatment. They find that the more severe their symptoms the less likely they are to find adequate help"  These fewer and fewer options, leave many untreated and facing worsening symptoms, job loss, evictions and are at high risk of falling into the revolving door of street-hospital-jail.  The Mental Health Service Administration Tax, "millionaire's tax," is being used to serve healthier individuals before the sickest. Administrators are fighting that this tax be used to fund pilot AOT (Assisted Outpatient Programs) for sick individuals who have "gotten in trouble with the law and have a extensive mental health/hospitalization history.

Jennifer makes it clear, the goal of this march is to "shine the light on the misuse of tax money that she feels could have helped save her son. Hoff says, "We need to strive for a system that is willing to pay to treat the illness not incarcerate the individual. Hoff illustrates how that can be achieved with reallocating funding in areas it is needed most and some deep reorganizing of the systems in control of the current system. "Simply throwing more money at the current delivery system is foolish" she says.

However there is a bill recently proposed by congressman Murphy in PA, that she says is a key part of helping families, individuals and communities- ensuring tax money is spent the way it was intended. The Families in Mental Health Crisis Act would overhaul the way delivery of care is managed and protect tax dollars by adding public oversight and transparency in spending as well as assisting families who are trying to keep a loved one and the community safe. 

"However many counties don't see it that way," says Hoff. "They insist that millions be spent in "Wellness and Recovery", with the mention of "Treatment" being omitted from program vocabulary. According to those in charge of prop 63, even the whistleblower complaints and eventual state audit lack outlining the areas of great concern with public oversight and evaluation measures of county programs."

"When it comes to public health care for mental illnesses, discrimination starts with money," said Hoff. "The underfunded system is the source of the stigma."  

A few of the facts that Hoff and many other affected families are speaking out against include:

- County Mental Health Plans are exempt from all parity laws, so the state is not required to pay for "medically necessary" treatment for anyone.

- California has permission from the federal government to deny parity to consumers in County Mental Health Plans, including MediCal-insured clients. 

- County mental health systems are underfunded and substandard because state funds are "capped" and not tied to any level of need or "caseload," unlike budgets for all other social services. Mental health funding alone suffers discrimination. 

- A process called "Realignment" allocates funds to counties based upon a formula linked to state tax revenue-never expected to cover essential costs. 

- Californians insured by Medicaid Managed Care (MediCal) have an entitlement to "medically necessary" treatment for all illnesses and injuries.

- But the state strips this federal entitlement from MediCal when it applies to "medically necessary" treatment in County Mental Health Plans. 

- California creates a separate and unequal system for mental illnesses-and eliminates the link to physical medicine. Mental illness treatment is isolated in a "carve-out" Mental Health Plan unrelated to mainstream health care.

- State policies require mental health consumers to manage two separate MediCal plans-with no promises about the quality of treatment for mental illnesses.

- Uninsured people have no guarantee of access to County Mental Health Plans, and they get mental health services only "to the extent resources are available."  

The Hoffs, along with a group of other parents, are urging County officials to adopt Laura's Law, which authorizes a court-with recommendations from doctors and family members-to order outpatient treatment for those with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Individual counties must decide whether to implement the state law, and so far, only Nevada County has it fully in place.

RIGHT2TREATMENT invites all Californians to become involved to pursue equal and open access and a right to quality treatment of mental illnesses throughout the diverse communities across the state.  For more information, contact Rose King or Teresa Pasquini at 916-456-8103 or email at [email protected].