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Amid Addiction Crisis, A Move To OK Medicaid For Mental Hospitals

The linked crises of drug addiction and homelessness have Washington on the verge of embracing a health care provider it once repudiated: the mental hospital

Nearly 60 years after Congress barred Medicaid from treating people in "insane asylums," lawmakers are on the verge of reversing course.

Community-based care championed since the 1960s hasn’t stopped record overdoses. Constituents have had it with the brazen drug use and tent encampments in their cities. Some public health advocates agree that times have changed and the magnitude of the crises justifies lifting the rule, reports Politico.

“It is no longer the 1960s, and there is no longer the same stigma against the treatment of mental health,” said GOP Rep. Michael Burgess, a doctor from Dallas’ affluent northern suburbs who sponsored a House bill to change the rule.

The measure passed last month would give states the option to treat Medicaid patients suffering from addiction for up to a month in a mental hospital on the government’s dime. The Senate Finance Committee approved a similar provision in November.

Burgess’ co-sponsor was Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from New York City’s poorest section, the South Bronx, who has spent time in the hospital for his own mental health struggles.

Public health groups including the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, as well as state Medicaid directors, support the change.

They say the 1965 rule barring Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and lower-middle income, from funding hospital treatment has had unintended consequences: a lack of psychiatric beds for people who need them.

Instead, many vulnerable people end up on the streets, in emergency rooms, in jails or dead.

Those who oppose repealing the Medicaid funding ban would like states and the federal government to focus on building that system, while those who want to see the policy gone say both community and hospital care are needed to provide people with what they need.


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