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Plan to end kids’ mental health program faces senate pushback

BATON ROUGE — Louisiana’s state senators may derail plans by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration to eliminate a Medicaid program that provides behavioral health services to thousands of children.
The Edwards administration intends to shutter the program on April 1, to save the state more than $2 million this year. Program elimination is part of the Department of Health’s response to cuts levied by lawmakers in last month’s special session to close a budget deficit.
But the Senate Health and Welfare Committee scheduled a Wednesday hearing on the emergency regulation that was issued to eliminate the mental health treatment services. If senators on the committee reject the regulation, that could stop the closure.
Committee Chairman Fred Mills, R-Parks, said senators have been inundated with calls from health providers in the program and from parents of children who receive services.
“We need a full hearing to understand why this program needs to be totally terminated on April 1,” Mills said. “As of now, as of everything I’ve learned, it just does not make sense to totally shut the program down.”
The program provides what are called “psychosocial rehabilitation services” for people under the age of 21, services aimed at helping children with behavioral health and emotional problems to remain in their homes and function in school.
More than 47,000 children and teenagers were served in 2016, according to data provided to the Senate committee, receiving help with daily living skills and coping strategies.
Ending the program next month will cut spending in the health department’s budget by nearly $6 million through June 30, though only $2.2 million of that is state funding. The rest would have been paid by the federal government.
The Louisiana Department of Health wouldn’t comment Tuesday on the upcoming Senate oversight hearing or its decision to cut the behavioral health program. In its emergency regulation outlining the planned closure, the department describes it as an action taken “to avoid a budget deficit.”
The agency, which has a more than $12 billion budget this year, took a $41 million cut to its state financing during the February special session to rebalance the state budget and close a more than $300 million hole. Cuts must be made before the June 30 end of the financial year.


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