Newtown Prompts Flood of Mental-Health Spending by U.S. States

Most U.S. states boosted spending this year on mental-health programs as lawmakers reacted to the slaughter of 20 Connecticut schoolchildren and six adults at the hands of a gunman.

Thirty-seven states increased spending in 2013, while another eight kept spending at the previous year’s level, according to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Alaska, Wyoming, Nebraska, Louisiana, North Carolina and Maine cut spending.

The Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in December prompted state lawmakers to begin restoring mental-health budgets that were reduced by $4.35 billion between 2009 and 2012 as the recession’s aftermath sapped income- and sales-tax revenue. Spending also is up as states bring health programs in line with the federal Affordable Care Act.

“A tipping point on the heels of several recent mass shootings, the Newtown tragedy shaped the debate about the lack of access to mental health services and the barriers that many families and individuals face in light of the nation’s fragmented and grossly inadequate mental health system,” the Arlington, Virginia-based organization said in its Oct. 28 report.

Swelling Revenue

In the shooting’s wake, legislatures began passing laws to help better screen and identify people who are mentally ill, particularly children and teenagers. States such as New York passed laws that link mental-health records to background checks for gun purchases. Arkansas now requires mental-health service providers to warn law enforcement about any credible threat by a patient.

Texas lawmakers agreed to spend $259 million more for mental health in the current biennial budget, the single largest such increase in the state’s history, according to the report. California lawmakers agreed to spend $143 million more to add 2,000 beds at clinics and hire 600 triage workers to staff 25 new crisis centers.

States have been able to spend more as revenue grew an estimated 5.3 percent in 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The mental-health spending met with little resistance in comparison with efforts to pass tougher gun-control laws. Lawmakers in New York, Colorado, Connecticut Maryland and elsewhere approved tighter restrictions on firearms, though federal efforts stalled amid opposition from groups such as the National Rifle Association.

As many as 2.65 million people with mental illness in the U.S. will qualify for subsidies to buy health insurance under the initial enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act. The federal law allows state to expand Medicaid, the state-federal health program for low-income people so that more people are covered. Medicaid already pays for about 27 percent of all mental-health financing in the U.S.

Twenty-five states expanded Medicaid coverage in 2013, according to the study.

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