Published Wednesday April 25, 2012
DES MOINES (AP) — The Iowa House voted Tuesday to overhaul the state’s mental health care system, setting up a regional network designed to ensure the quality of services is consistent statewide.
The House approved the measure on a 65-32 vote, returning it to the Senate, where a similar version has been approved.
Rep. Renee Schulte, a main backer of the measure, said relatively minor differences have been worked out and she anticipates quick Senate approval.
Schulte, R-Cedar Rapids, said the state’s county-based system leads to wide variation in the quality of services offered. She said the state will spend about $52 million in taking over some of the services now being provided by counties.
“The property taxes are not keeping up with the demand on the system,” said Schulte.
Supporters of the change have been working to reshape Iowa’s public mental health system for years. Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, underscored the wide disparity in services across the state.
“Because of where I live, I may not get the medication I need,” said Wagner. “Another Iowan might get a cellphone.”
Critics warned that there will still be disparities between counties.
“We are reducing the amount of money people get for mental health services,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. “It will gut our ability to provide mental health services.”
Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Ottumwa, argued that more studies are needed before enacting such a significant overhaul of a large, complicated and expensive system. She noted that a statewide mental health care system could worsen care in some counties where funding has been strong but improve it in other counties where funding has been minimal.
“What you are doing is picking winners and losers, and we are losers,” Gaskill said. “Our costs are going to go up.”
Schulte warned that the costs of offering mental health services are soaring beyond the ability of local governments to keep up, so the state needs to step in and make up the difference.
“Every year, there is a bigger and bigger gap,” Schulte said, conceding there undoubtedly will be more debate on the issue next session and in years after.
Schulte said that if lawmakers don’t institute a statewide system and offer funding, increased costs will fall on the counties and force higher property taxes.
“I know this bill is not perfect,” said Schulte. “Doing nothing would be worse.”
Gov. Terry Branstad has said he supports an overhaul, but aides said he’ll study the final version before making a decision.
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said if the final version is acceptable, it would mark a very big change for the state.
“If approved, it would be a significant accomplishment for this Legislature,” Albrecht said.
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