Legislative Breakfast for Mental Health

I was at the annual event, held Saturday morning, Jan. 22 at the Friday Center.  This was the biggest yet!

If there was a zeitgeist to the room, it was, “What’s gonna happen?”  There were a lot of questions directed to the lawmakers present, in particular, the few Republicans there.  I sat at a “speed meeting” next to Pat Hurley (District 70), who’ll chair the mental health subcommittee of the new Health and Human Services Committee.  She was somewhat vague in her reassurances… she started out by saying that Medicaid money would be cut.  Hurley said she understood the need to provide services to people who need them, but also said there’s a big deficit and it needs to get addressed.

Hurley, from Asheboro, has been Clerk of Court in Randolph County.  She also described herself as having worked in banking, and in auto auctioning.  So, Hurley doesn’t have a lot of health care experience – and she admits it. But she also says she’s been going to a lot of meetings to get herself up to speed. She also mentioned she’d visited some mental health facilities, notably Central Regional Hospital.

If there was an overarching theme, to the day, it was, “advocate your butts off.” Several of the speakers talked about inviting lawmakers to visit their facilities and programs so they can get familiar with what they do.

Folks listening glumly to Beth Melcher as she talks about budget cuts

The morning ended on an up note (irony here) with Assistant Secretary (for mental health) Beth Melcher laying out in stark detail what will happen with budget cuts.  Right now, the DHHS budget for FY ’11 is at $17.3 billion, of that, $13.4 B comes from the fed in the form of Medicaid matching funds to what the state spends.  The state appropriates $3.9B for health, and for each dollar the state cuts, we lose several dollars in federal matching funds.  In other words, if legislators cut, say, $1 B from DHHS in the state budget, that means it translates to a cut that’s more like 3 or 4 billion dollars.

Melcher didn’t mince words about warning about what happens when you cut those state dollars.

She did say, though, that so far, DHHS has ‘protected’ mental health from cuts. But she didn’t know how much further they could do that.

The mathematical figure of the day also came from Melcher, who talked about the rhetoric from Raleigh to cut ‘wasteful administration expenses.’  Melcher reported that even if lawmakers cut all, yes ALL, state facilities, all DHHS personnel and all administration, that would only reduce the budget by 8.5%. The current budget deficit stands at about 15 percent.

Paul Luebke got the last legislative word… he suggested that the gathered advocate to their lawmakers that the state retain all of the temporary taxes and fees due to sunset in the upcoming year.  That would account for about $1.3 B, leaving a gap of $2.4 B.

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