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Parenting Plus :Just Say ‘No’ to Governor Paterson

Governor David Paterson proposes to close a growing multibillion dollar budget deficit by, in part, making deep cuts to human services including community-based children’s mental health services. On Oct. 27, I testified before the New York State Finance Committee on the deadly combination of cuts to children’s mental health and the New York State Office of Mental Health’s (OMH) plan to refinance outpatient clinics (also known as “clinic reform”). Following is a portion of my testimony.

“Good afternoon Senators…I am here representing the Long Island Coalition of Behavioral Health Providers.

“More low income and middle-class families than ever before are in need of low cost, high quality community-based mental health care. Yet, the New York State Office of Mental Health is implementing a plan for these critical services that will result in a system of community care where only those children and families with Medicaid ‘fee for service’ insurance coverage will be assured ongoing access to care. At the same time, Governor Paterson has proposed cutting local assistance dollars for behavioral healthcare services.

“The erosion of local assistance funding in conjunction with the march towards clinic reform is the perfect storm for the destruction of children’s community-based mental health services on Long Island. There will be no real cost savings left in the wake of this storm; only the incalculable cost of young lives being set adrift and families being destroyed.

“The lethal mix of clinic reform and decades of diminished local assistance dollars portends a mental health delivery system that will no longer assure access to mental health care for children regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.

“A once proud community-based mental health care system that was built ‘for one and for all’ is being systematically deconstructed into a ‘Medicaid-only, others need not apply’ service delivery system.

“New York State has a statutory responsibility to make sure that its most vulnerable citizens, our children, get care regardless of their families’ economic status. Instead, what we are getting is institutionalized classism that cuts the middle class and working poor out of the behavioral healthcare equation.

“Many children with what seems like ample health insurance coverage will no longer receive behavioral healthcare services from community clinics as a result of the lack of parity between government (Medicaid) rates and rates paid by commercial insurers. And, the new Federal Mental Health Parity Act will not help. Offering unlimited clinic visits at substandard rates is not parity, but a barrier that denies access to the middle class and working poor. Commercial insurers that cannot demonstrate an adequacy of network for behavioral healthcare can and should have their licenses revoked by the State Department of Insurance.

“Community clinics have always been a mainstay in addressing the needs of children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances. Private counselors, with rare exception, cannot afford to offer the labor intensive work necessary to properly serve families that are struggling with serious emotional disturbances.

“We call on New York State, in conjunction with local government, to restore and enhance rather than slash local assistance funding – a partnership between local and state government, the local community and client-consumer. Action must to be taken now to reverse the course of clinic reform and to preserve local assistance funding before it is too late.

“Thank you, senators, for holding this hearing and for giving me the opportunity to testify before the committee.”

I urge you, my readers, to write or call your local New York State assemblyperson and senator and tell them to fight against the State cutting local assistance dollars for community-based children’s mental health services.