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#FINDINGHOPE: Will this waiver boost access to mental health and addiction services in Idaho?

Posted: 5:03 PM, Dec 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-02 19:43:48-05

BOISE, Idaho — A waiver that would let Idahoans on Medicaid get longer-term access to mental health and substance use treatment is being deliberated this week at two public hearings.

While one group says this is the answer we need to address mental health and addiction issues in the Gem State, another anti-expansion group worries that this could make it more attractive for people to sign up with Medicaid.

"This is the only positive enhancement to Medicaid expansion," said Sam Sandmire, volunteer leader at Reclaim Idaho.

But not everyone agrees.

"We're not in favor of a waiver that's actually going to expand the pool of those treated," said Fred Birnbaum, vice president of Idaho Freedom Foundation.

That's why the Department of Health and Welfare is asking for your input. They released a Behavioral Health Transformation Waiver last month for public comment.

So what is it and what would it do? For one, it'll boost where eligible people can be covered for treatments, which would particularly help folks in rural areas.

Also, if it passes, more resources would be made available for those with mental health and and substance use disorders -- and those people would benefit from improved coordination of care.

Reclaim Idaho says -- unlike other Medicaid expansion revisions recently -- this one, they support.

"Because it will allow people with mental health issues and substance use issues to receive treatment through Medicaid expansion," said Sandmire. "Preventative health always is the best way,"

The Idaho Freedom Foundation takes a different stance.

"Medicaid as designed was a program for Idaho's most vulnerable -- pregnant women of low income, children, and the disabled... unsustainable costs of Medicaid expansion will threaten the most vulnerable."

For context the vast majority of Medicaid expansion is covered by federal dollars. Recently the Department of Health and Welfare was quick to point out Idaho's "increased need for access to behavioral health care."

As the Department of Health and Welfare pointed out in their news release, this aligns with the priority made clear by both the Governor's office and the Idaho Legislature. That is: confronting the opioid epidemic.

Public comments on the waiver will be accepted until December 24. This week's hearings in Boise are Monday and Tuesday from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

The Monday hearing is at the Joe R. Williams Building East 700 W. State St., Boise, and the Tuesday hearing is at Conference Room D in the Medicaid Central Office, 3232 Elder St., Boise.

Can't make it in person? You can also dial in via conference call at 1-877-820-7831, then dial extension 301388#.