21st Century Cures Act Increases Mental Health Access in Sebastian County and Barling, AR

New federal legislation that provides $6.3 billion to a variety of healthcare initiatives may benefit individuals in Sebastian County and other parts of Arkansas who need mental health treatment. However, this good news may be tempered by changes to Arkansas law that may limit access to psychiatric care and therapy for individuals who have developmental disabilities.

Mental Health Treatment Addressed in New Federal Law

On Dec. 13, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. During his remarks at the bill signing ceremony, the president noted that the new law will address a variety of health-related issues, including the following:

  • The Cancer Moonshot, a comprehensive initiative to research treatment and cures for a variety of cancers
  • The BRAIN initiative, which focuses on research into prevention and treatment efforts for Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, and related challenges
  • The Precision Medicine Initiative, which will focus on more efficient and effective uses of data to promote advancements in medical research
  • Improvements to how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) designs and regulates clinical trials to evaluated new drugs
  • Funding for efforts to combat the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic
  • Requirements that insurance companies provide fair coverage for mental health and substance abuse treatment

The sections of the 21st Century Cures Act that address funding for mental health treatmentmay be particularly relevant for individuals in Sebastian County and the rest of Arkansas, as the state is currently in the process of reevaluating how and how much it will continue to pay for mental health services.

Arkansas Legislators Propose Cuts to Medicaid Funding for Mental Health

On Nov. 22, 2016, Arkansas television station KARK reported that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was working with state legislators and an alliance of healthcare providers to find ways to reduce the amount of money that the state spends on mental health services without placing undue burden on citizens who depend upon such services.

As KARK reported, an effort by Gov. Hutchinson and some members of the Arkansas legislature to hire a managed care company to rein in spending on mental health services was successfully opposed by other legislators as well as a group of healthcare providers who formed the Arkansas Alliance for Health Improvement.

With the managed care option currently off the table, Gov. Hutchinson and others throughout Arkansas continue to look for ways to provide mental health services to children, adolescents, and adults in Sebastian County and all other areas of the state while minimizing the impact that paying for such services will have on the state’s budget.

On Dec. 15, Arkansas Online reported that the Arkansas Health Reform Legislative Task Force has recommended that the state’s Department of Human Services begin to implement a variety of changes to limit healthcare costs, including two that directly impact mental health services:

  • Changes to Medicaid mental health benefits that will reduce the number of people who receive treatment in psychiatric hospitals
  • Limits on access to speech, occupational and physical therapy for individuals who have developmental disabilities

Rep. Charlie Collins, who chaired the Health Reform Legislative Task Force, said that the cuts his group has proposed will put Arkansas on “a strong pathway to exceeding our minimum savings goals.”

However, not all legislators are in favor of limiting access to mental health care in Arkansas. When previous funding cuts were announced on Sept. 30, Sen. Linda Chesterfield told UALR Public Radio that the decision could lead to several negative outcomes.

“It’s time for us to stop trying to dictate medical care and leave it to those who are the professionals,” Sen. Chesterfield said.

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