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How Medicaid expansion will impact mental services

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | May 20, 2015 5:08 AM

Remember how Governor Tom Wolf's decision to expand Medicaid once jumped onto the front page?

Well it's mostly been buried deep in the news, but the full transition is underway, set to be complete by September.

With May Mental Health Awareness Month, I recently sat down with Dennis Marion, Deputy Secretary for the state Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

How does Medicaid expansion benefit those who get mental health services?

"I think the important part is removing a potential barrier, real or imagined. When someone is beginning to demonstrate behavioral health needs and mental health needs, you really don't want obstacles between their pathway to treatment and then recovery. Just being able to address how to cover the cost of care is one of the great features of the Medicaid expansion."

Where were these people getting care in the past?

"Some may have been part of our service delivery system. In Pennsylvania, we do have county based system of services that is based in predominantly state funding, so there is access to care. But at times, there could be delays in getting in in terms of how much care is available. Fortunately throughout the Commonwealth, emergency services are available. Crisis intervention is available Commonwealth-wide. Being covered by insurance is not a barrier to crisis care. But for some other elements, having the coverage just opens up the variety of providers you may be able to work with.

"The most important thing is responding to the emergency systems early. The earlier the intervention, the better the prognosis for dealing with whatever illness might be manifesting itself. Its so much better to engage with care, engage with help, both physical health and mental health, early on in the progression. What can be done, and the options for success are just so much more dramatic when you respond early."

What about the stress on the system. Do you have fear the system might not be able to take on more patients?

"Well I think one thing we know is Pennsyvlania is the mental health system has been around for decades and has become adept at taking advantage of opportunities. So we expect that provider networks will expand in response to the need. We know we have some challenges in terms of some specialized professionals within the system, but I think the addition of this resource will create the opportunity for us to look at how to meet the need that emerges."

Mental health isn't as apparent as a physical injury, so how will people notice that Medicaid expansion is helping?

"It's an interesting challenge for us because I think our greatest successes are folks who work with you or are a part of your family, and you're not aware that they've actually benefitted from treatment in response to symptoms of mental illness. There are wonderful stories of folks who because of treatment, because of access to treatment, have been able to come to grips with their illness, and manage their illness, and live productive, successful lives."

Pennsylvania is hosting a State of Mental Health rountable tomorrow morning at 10 at the State Museum.

Experts from the state will discusss eating disorders, substance abuse, depression, suicide prevention, and coordinated care.

The free event is open to the public and will also feature time for questions.

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