Gov. Haslam considering cutting funds for mental health

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Gov. Bill Haslam is talking about cutting healthcare costs in his fiscal year 2016 budget. Mental health care is one of the biggest areas seeing cuts, with the main focus being on the budget for Level 2 Mental Health Case Management.

Level 2 case managers help people with mental health illnesses function in the community by taking them to appointments and making sure they take their medications, but new cuts to the state budget might put an end to that.

The state says the cuts are about making sure taxpayer funded benefits are being used appropriately. Right now, it says many of the services that could be cut aren’t medically necessary.

TennCare gave WATE 6 On Your Side examples of misuse from across the state like using case managers for trips to Target and patients being stable for more than three years without a crisis situation and still having a case manager.

The state is looking at cutting more than $10 million from the Level 2 Mental Health Case Management budget. TennCare says while it will have a fiscal impact, it’s policy driven, so we went to the Helen Ross McNabb Center to see how a policy change would affect the thousands of mental health patients in East Tennessee.

The center says it has more than 2,000 East Tennessee members who will feel the burden of the cuts. Leann Human-Hilliard, the vice president of Clinical Services, says the cuts to Level 2 case management aren’t going to affect mild cases of mental illness, but it’s going to have a big impact on those with severe and chronic cases who struggle functioning in the community on their own on a day-to-day basis.

“We’re talking about a population that dies 25 years younger than their peers,” said Human-Hilliard.

Kelley Osborne has had a case manager from the Helen Ross McNabb Center for seven years. She is bipolar and suffers from severe depression. Her case manager helps her with everything from getting her medication and housing, to acting as a liaison between doctors.

Human-Hilliard says intensive case management from places like the Helen Ross McNabb center also keeps patients out of hospitals and even jail. She says this plan will only shift funds from one level of care to a higher level of care, and could actually end up costing the state more.

Osborne says she was one of those people until she got a case manager from Helen Ross McNabb.

“I was going into hospitals every two weeks,” she said. Now she says she’s only going in two to three times a year, but is worried about what might happen with state cuts.

“It’s a very frightening feeling,” said Osborne.

The new plan will offer 90 days of case management to those meeting certain criteria. After that, there will be an evaluation from the health plan and provider to see if continuing management is clinically necessary.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office says it is looking into whether these cuts will bring on additional costs. Gov. Haslam’s press secretary says  he is now taking a closer look at this because of the feedback he’s gotten across the state.

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