FAIRBANKS (AP) — Behavioral health providers in Alaska are concerned about the impact of a potential $7 million reduction in grants to services such as mental health counseling and alcohol and drug abuse treatment.
The total grant budget for the state would be less than $60 million under the cuts, which are included in Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed state operating budget, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
In the Fairbanks area, the state awarded about $9 million in behavioral health grants in fiscal 2015. Some of those providers say they’re expecting grants to be 10 percent smaller this upcoming fiscal year.
One of the biggest grant recipients is the Fairbanks Native Association, which provides alcohol and drug abuse treatment. The organization’s director, Perry Ahsogeak, said there will be even longer wait times for the 150 people currently in line to get treatment if the cuts are implemented.
“The lack of adequate funding as well as the budget cuts are going to hurt us even more,” he said. “I’m going to have to look at how many beds I’m going to have in my program if there’s additional cuts.”
The Fairbanks Native Association offers services aimed at people who want help for their substance abuse. Ahsogeak said it is critical that those seeking help get it as quickly as possible.
“When you want treatment, you want it now,” he said. “From now until (a spot becomes available) maybe you don’t want treatment anymore. … I’ve got to be able to grab you now to provide treatment now. I can’t force you into treatment and I can’t force you to participate unless you want to do it.”
The state’s reasoning behind the cuts is that providers can make up for the lost grants by transitioning to expanded Medicaid dollars, said Randall Burns, the interim director of the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health in the Department of Health and Social Services.
“The intent in the governor’s budget is that we are slowly introducing cuts to the grants line as Medicaid expansion allows many of the individuals, particularly the adults who were not previously eligible for any kind of health coverage, to get enrolled and be able to participate in the behavioral health system as they have never been able to do,” Burns said.
But Tom Chard, director of the Alaska Behavioral Health Association, said providers have reason to be concerned about the potential change. Medicaid coverage does not apply to everything that grant dollars currently support, especially when it comes to services like residential alcohol and abuse treatment, he said.
“It’s possible that everyone will transition relatively easily and they’ll be able to offer their services to a lot more people,” he said. “It’s also entirely possible that people won’t be able to make the transition; that the technology, the capacity just isn’t there.
The state is working to get waivers that will allow more services to be covered under Medicaid.