Kansas lawmakers temporarily limit a program that increases mental health services

The new process requires clinics to deliver a specific range of services to qualify for federal tax dollars for more money.

by Blaise Mesa

Targeted federal tax dollars turbocharged Sedgwick County’s COMCARE mental health clinic by helping it give patients more behavioral health treatment and add sorely needed staff. 

COMCARE cut its staff vacancy rate from around 50% years ago down to 13%, thanks in part to a federal program. 

Other community mental health centers have expanded their services to prison inmates and military members thanks to a federal model of mental health programming. The program certified nonprofit health centers and sent more money to increase programming. 

But Kansas lawmakers decided to limit the types of psychiatric clinics, for now, that can tap into that money to improve services. 

The federal government created the certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHC) system in the late 2010s. Nonprofit medical providers could get certified as a CCBHC. To do so, clinics needed to offer nine core services, including crisis treatment, peer and family support counseling and psychiatric rehabilitation. 

Any qualified nonprofit — which includes community mental health centers or addiction treatment programs — can get their money if it meets a range of standards.

Those centers must also offer those services to anyone regardless of ability to pay. Those locations got more money if they met the strict certification rules. 

Kansas lawmakers passed a law in 2021 saying only community mental health centers can be certified under the program. 

The law wasn’t controversial because other nonprofit medical providers were fine with putting community mental health centers first in line for certification. 

This year lawmakers passed another law that only allows community mental health centers to become CCBHCs before 2027. The first law had a deadline in 2024. 

“Now we’ve tacked on three more years,” said Stuart Little, lobbyist for the Behavioral Health Association of Kansas. “How many three-year extensions are we going to have on this?”

The new law comes as demand for mental health services continues to skyrocket. 

Calls to the 988 suicide hotline increased 27% in its first six months. Mental Health America’s 2023 report ranked Kansas last in the nation for its mental health response. And more children report feeling depressed and contemplate suicide. 

Little said the state should be expanding as many resources as possible because there’s plenty of work to go around. 

Twenty-six mental health centers are pursuing certification in Kansas. Once those 26 finish, other providers can have their turn. Certification under the program, which was developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, usually takes years. 

Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat, said the state is not trying to stop anyone from becoming a CCBHC. 

The original version of the bill did have a restriction that said only community mental health centers could get certified, but lawmakers weren’t comfortable with that permanent exclusion. So they create the multiyear provision instead. 

“I have a problem with the word ‘limit’ because we’re not trying to exclude anybody from this,” Ruiz said. 

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Beacon