State expects Medicaid mental-health care waiver to unburden prisons

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office said the state’s Medicaid waiver to the federal government isn’t just about providing better mental health services more efficiently; it also aims to help ease the burden on the state’s criminal justice system.

Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Felicia Norwood said the recently submitted waiver would use $2.7 billion of federal funds over five years to focus on community-based care and prevention efforts without any additional state tax dollars.

The new effort would help improve mental health treatment and transition those from the criminal justice system into everyday society, Norwood said.

“If we don’t prepare before individuals leave the juvenile justice system to have them linked with someone on the other side, we don’t really improve the opportunity to reduce recidivism.”

Stakeholders in Illinois’ behavioral health arena are applauding.

Illinois Association for Behavioral Health CEO Sara Howe applauded Rauner for acting on suggestions the behavioral health community has been making for years.

“This is just the beginning,” Howe said. “We’re going to roll up our sleeves, we’re going to get working, we’re going to make sure that once we get this past (federal agencies), and we get started, we’re going to be there to make sure this is successful.”

SIU School of Medicine Psychiatry Department Chairman Dr. Kari Wolf helped oversee similar waivers in Texas and said Illinois’ is set up for success. “Patients could receive the right care at the right place at the right time.”

With the waiver now on file, Norwood said state officials will work with the federal government on implementation, presumably soon. State officials are seeking expedited approval from the federal government, with a target implementation date of July 1, 2017.

–Illinois News Network

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