Iowa’s mental health reform needs more review, lawmakers say
An attempt to reform Iowa’s $1.3 billion mental health service programs would be delayed to go through an intense study period in the next seven months under a proposal unveiled today by the Iowa House.
Parts of Iowa’s mental health system have been broken for years, both Democrats and Republicans agree. Hundreds of people remain on waiting lists and some families – particularly in rural areas – don’t have the same levels of care or options that are available in urban areas.
Lawmakers this legislative session allocated an additional $20 million to trim the mental health waiting lists in the current fiscal year. But unless lawmakers can work out a long-term solution, most agree the lists will grow again.
The help resolve the problem, both the House and the Senate have separate plans that would streamline programs and take over administration of mental health programs for all 99 counties. Today’s proposal merges parts of both plans and moves major changes to take place in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2013, a year later than earlier versions had proposed.
The Senate version, Senate File 525, calls for eight mental health regions consisting of contiguous counties. Each region would include one of the state’s larger cities: Ames, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City, Sioux City and Waterloo.
The House version, House File 626, creates a statewide system.
A provision to Senate File 525 outlined by House Republicans today would scrap the entire bill and replace it with multiple study groups comprised of state and local officials that would report back to the legislature in December.
Of the $1.3 billion costs, around $500 million is from state and county contributions. Advocates of mental health reform said – if reform is done properly – not only could more families be assisted but there could be less stress upon Iowa’s prison systems, more people become productive members of society and the overall tax burden could be reduced.
Opponents have questioned the need for the state to takeover the system. Future revenue downturns could potentially jeopardize mental health services or make their long-term operations more vulnerable to political whims, they have said.
Rep. Renee Schulte, R-Cedar Rapids, who has worked with the House proposal said further study is needed to make sure the state makes solid choices in the reform. House Appropriation Committee members will likely consider the amendment tomorrow, she said.
“It will take us a little longer, study a little more but we’re making sure we have all the right people at the table to make the best decisions so we don’t have to keep messing around with this and that we can set a good foundation for the future,” Schulte said.