Montana Democrats are proposing an immediate $20 million injection into the state’s behavioral health system, saying it is on the brink of collapse.
Rep. Ed Staffman, D-Bozeman, said he would distribute the money tomorrow if he could.
“I cannot stress enough what a dire situation our mental health system is facing, both adults and children,” Staffman said.
Lawmakers are debating how much to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for health care providers this session after a study found providers were underpaid tens of millions of dollars. But Staffman said suppliers couldn’t wait until the next financial year, they needed help now.
staffman with House Bill 248, which would fully fund the study’s recommended rate hikes in FY 2023 and the state’s $2 billion surplus. Once signed by the governor, it will take effect immediately.
The Montana Medical Association, the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Benefis Health System and Shodair Children’s Hospital all expressed their support.
There was no opposition, but some lawmakers expressed concerns about how spending would be capped and whether government levers would work fast enough to make the money work.
Budget cuts that began in 2017 have been exacerbated by the pandemic and labor shortages, leading to significant reductions in behavioral health services.
Montana will lose 70 teen home therapy unit beds in 2022 alone, according to the state health department.
Governor Greg Gianforte has proposed a budget that will close approximately one-third of the identified provider compensation gap and provide an additional one-time stabilization fund of $25 million over the next biennium.
The Stafman Act aims to start distributing funds by May 15. The state likely won’t use the full $20 million allocated, as some should come from federal matching funds, Stafman said. The representative said he plans to introduce a second bill later that would provide immediate funding for nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state.