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Budget cuts jeopardize state health care

Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services announced that they will enact a 23 percent budget cut if the legislature does not allot required funds. Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall announced on Oct. 19 that budget cuts would be delayed until 2018 or until a strategic solution is reached due to rising concerns, according to the Associated Press.

What does this mean?

Those benefiting from services such as counseling, rehabilitation programs, lab tests and MRI scans will be affected. The state will no longer fund most outpatient programs that an estimated 189,000 Oklahomans have previously relied on. Hundreds of treatment agencies along with thousands of therapists and medical practitioners will also be affected.

“You’re going to see homelessness and crime rates increase when people don’t have access to services, and then the unemployment rate is going to go up, which is going to impact all these other core functions of government,” said Melissa Baldwin, director of justice and policy for Mental Health Association Oklahoma.

Why was the budget cut?

Domino effect. Last month, a 1.50 dollar fee on cigarettes was proposed by the state. The fee was an effort by lawmakers to help fill the 215 million dollar state budget gap by bringing in a projected 258 million dollars. However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned the fee stating that it was “unconstitutionally enacted,” according to the Associated Press. With that idea scratched, the state was back to the drawing board.

“These cuts are unbearable and will decimate our state’s behavioral health care system. Yet, they are the only choices the agency has left to keep from completely eliminating services for Oklahoma’s most acutely ill,” said ODMHSAS Commissioner Terri White in a written statement.

What are the concerns?

Concerns were raised about the dangers of cutting heavily relied-on programs such as child abuse prevention and drug rehabilitation that reduce odds of children being abused and neglected. According to Sherry Fair, executive director of a home visiting program known as Parent Promise, the 75 families that they serve would be lost. The program provides support to parents through free educational resources, guidance and connecting parents with job training.

According to a July report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Oklahoma ranks as having the highest percentage of people over 12 who have abused prescription drugs in the nation. With the budget cut, drug courts and treatment options would no longer be government-funded and would reduce greatly. With opioid abuse growing as a wide-spread epidemic in the nation, concerns have risen. Executive director of the state Office of Juvenile Affairs Steve Buck fears that, “we will lose lives if we cut outpatient services.”

“It is always a difficult decision to cut any program,” said Tony Sellars, spokesperson for the Health Department, in a written statement. “There are currently more budget-cutting measures under consideration.”