Hike funding

Nebraska behavioral health providers advocate for funding

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) – At Behavioral Health Solutions, an increase in demand for mental health care due to COVID-19 has turned into a waiting list of more than 100 people for one of the 58 beds in inpatient treatment at nonprofit sites in Norfolk and Columbus.

Meanwhile, the organization competes for employees with local fast-food restaurants, which pay just as well as its starting wage of $14 to $15 an hour.

So when Jay Fleecs learned on Monday that Gov. Pete Ricketts had vetoed a needed increase in supplier rates for his organization, it was a punch in the gut.

Expansion plans pending

Plans to expand the facility to cope with the waiting list have been put on hold, as have talks about raising wages. Fleece said it’s hard to blame employees who take jobs elsewhere or leave, but he said an increase in provider rates was needed to fill vacancies at his agency and meet service needs.

“Do you go to Burger King for the same price or do you go to a crisis treatment center? he said.

Fleecs, along with the leader of a coalition of behavioral health providers, argued Tuesday that these mental health providers are in dire need of the 15% increase in provider fees that state lawmakers have had. included in its recently adopted budget.

He said state reimbursements for Medicaid patient services never matched actual costs, but Behavioral Health Solutions was able to get by thanks to the higher rates paid by private paying customers.

Rate hike left at 5%

The governor’s veto leaves behavioral health service providers with a 5% rate hike this year, which advocates say translates into continued struggles to hire workers and full services, as well as rosters continuous waiting.

Fleecs said if his agency could be fully funded, it would move forward with adding 44 new inpatient beds. In the long run, this would help stabilize people with mental health issues and help them get off Medicaid and become productive citizens. He said it could also prevent some people from committing crimes that fill state prisons.

“That 15% increase would be a win-win situation for everyone,” Fleecs said. “I don’t know if Governor Ricketts understands that.”

The governor, in his veto message to state senators, said the $52 million he vetoed should be spent on tax cuts rather than 15% tax rate hikes. providers for those caring for the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, children who are wards of the state and the elderly in nursing homes. Behavioral health provider rates, Ricketts added, were increased by 2% a year ago, making it a total increase of 7% even with his vetoes.

“Appropriate Balance”

“It is important that we strike the right balance between calibrating government spending and returning excess revenue to the people,” Ricketts wrote. The vetoes, which included funding cuts for several other items, would allow the tax relief to “succeed”, he added.

Those words prompted an angry reaction Tuesday on the floor of the Legislative Assembly by State Sen. John Stinner de Gering, who heads the budget-drafting appropriations committee.

Stinner said he worked with the governor to determine the state could afford a tax cut package that would reach $900 million after five years. He added that provider rate hikes approved by the appropriations committee and the legislature were also within the state’s budget projections.

The vetoes, Stinner said, made Tuesday his “worst” day in eight years as a state senator.

“It’s shameful,” the senator said. “There’s no way I’m giving tax breaks on the backs of suppliers.”

Comments from Stinner, who has made raising supplier rates a priority this year, have sparked discussions about linking the tax cut bill with veto waivers — if the tax cut bill tax cut succeeds, the veto should also prevail.

We may soon know if this agreement is finalized. On Tuesday, the tax cut bill advanced after overcoming a filibuster and facing another round of debate. The vote of derogation from the veto could take place as early as Wednesday.

Upcoming veto override vote

Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, vice chair of the appropriations committee, said she was confident the veto waivers would work.

She said the committee’s goal of raising vendor rates was, in part, to allow vendors to offer better wages, in the range of $18 an hour.

Providers are struggling to hire help, Wishart said, in part because the governor raised salaries for state prison workers and others to compete with wage inflation in the private sector.

Former state senator Annette Dubas, who is now executive director of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, said the majority of its 52 members are nonprofit groups that rely heavily on money public through supplier tariffs. But those rates haven’t matched real costs for years and years, Dubas said.

Less staff, less access

Now, she said, increased demand for services and staff shortages mean that not all services can be provided, reducing access to help.

“COVID-19 has really increased demand, especially for residential services, Dubas said.

At Behavioral Health Solutions, Fleecs said the agency plans to move forward with the conversion of a former nursing home in Norfolk, adding an additional 44 residential beds.

But now it’s on hold, pending a vote on veto waivers.

Fleecs said he hopes the governor considers the “long-term” impact of improving behavioral health services instead of the short-term funding veto.

“Think about helping people get off Medicaid. Think about people getting back into a civil society,” he said.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Cate Folsom with questions: [email protected] Follow the Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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