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Eye On Boise

Baugh: Medicaid expansion could solve ‘crisis’ in Idaho’s mental health system, save $$

Jim Baugh, executive director of Disability Rights Idaho, speaking on behalf of the Consortium for Idahoans with Disabilities, told lawmakers this afternoon that thousands of Idahoans with disabilities fall into the state’s health coverage gap, and would be covered if Idaho accepted Medicaid expansion funds.

“In Idaho, the majority of adults who have severe and persistent mental illness are not currently covered by either Medicaid, or Medicare, or a health insurance plan,” he said. “There are also a lot of people who have low income who have disabilities.”

Currently, those with serious mental illness can only receive state services if they’re referred by the courts through the criminal justice system, or they’re in crisis and could harm themselves or others, Baugh said. “If you only treat mental health when it reaches a crisis, then you have a lot more people who progress to a crisis,” he told lawmakers. “If we were to do a Medicaid expansion, we would literally catch all of those people with severe and persistent mental illness.”

He said the state’s current mental health and substance abuse programs would save an estimated $10.25 million a year if Idaho expanded Medicaid. And the current system, he said, is “in crisis,” and doesn’t meet the needs. Reforming and expanding Medicaid, he said, would provide a range of community-based mental health services to nearly all Idahoans with a serious and persistent mental illness. That, he said, “could fix much of what is wrong with Idaho’s current mental health system using federal dollars.”    

“There are a lot of these services that allow people to stay in their homes, that cost much less than nursing home care, and Medicaid provides those services and saves money,” Baugh said.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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