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Columbia Missourian

Gov. Nixon endorses expansion of Medicaid to provide mental health services

By Frances Webber
February 6, 2014 | 3:31 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Despite the Missouri Senate's recent unwillingness to allow Medicaid expansion, Gov. Jay Nixon is continuing to push for reform to the MO HealthNet Division, particularly to provide mental health services to those currently uninsured.

Nixon spoke at Burrell Health Center on Thursday about the need to expand Medicaid. On Wednesday, the state Senate voted against an amendment to Senate Bill 518 that would extend Medicaid coverage to those at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Nixon said the benefits of Medicaid reforms would be twofold. First, it would expand mental health services provided to uninsured Missourians suffering from mental health issues. Second, Medicaid reform would reduce costs in the state budget.

One in five individuals who suffer from mental health issues does not have insurance, Nixon said. Without insurance, these individuals cannot receive preventative care that would keep them out of emergency rooms or jail, he said.

According to a March 2013 report from the Missouri Department of Mental Health, expanding Medicaid could improve both health and public safety. Research study results have shown that providing stable, ongoing mental health treatment for high-risk individuals reduced emergency room and hospital visits, as well as shortening the length of an average hospital stay. In addition, those who receive substance abuse treatment through similar programs cause less crime, the report said.

Medicaid expansion would allow for intervention with these individuals to prevent incarceration and reduce recidivism, according to the report.

"The way to move forward is to look at ways to improve the system," Nixon said, explaining that the way to do this is by providing care before people with mental illnesses reach a point where they have a mental health crisis.

Improving the system will also save money and generate revenue, Nixon said. Federal funds are projected to add $94.2 million to the budget in 2015 and $185.9 million in 2016 if Medicaid were to be expanded, he said.

"Doing nothing is not going to improve the system," Nixon said of the Senate's failure to vote to approve Medicaid expansion.

Nixon said he plans to work with the legislature moving forward.

"I look forward to working with folks on this in the coming months," he said.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.