Mental health advocates oppose proposed restriction on drugs for Medicaid patients/Monday vote

Eight Virginia health groups, from pediatricans to the Virginia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are urging the  General Assembly to reject the governor’s amendment restricting access to psychiatric medications for those on Medicaid.

Here's a press release and excerpts from the coalition's letter to the legislature:

A broad coalition of patient advocates and healthcare providers today [Friday, May 11] asked the Virginia General Assembly to oppose an amendment from Gov. Bob McDonnell that would restrict access to mental health medications, drive up costs for taxpayers and put the health, safety and welfare of patients at risk. The groups sent a letter to Virginia legislators, who are poised to vote Monday on the governor’s budget amendment to make mental health drugs, such as antidepressants, antianxiety and antipsychotics subject to Medicaid Preferred Drug List (PDL) restrictions.

 “On behalf of Virginia psychiatrists, physicians, mental health advocates, mental health service consumers and their families, we ask that you reject amendment 44 and maintain the policy that has been working for Medicaid patients,” the groups wrote in the joint letter, imploring legislators to maintain a policy that has allowed Virginia to avoid “many of the problems that continue to exist in other states.”

 Virginia currently allows health care providers to prescribe the most effective treatments for Medicaid participants living with mental illness. Physicians may use whatever course of treatment they deem best for their patients, rather than being restricted to treatments on the state’s preferred drug list. Since the development of the Virginia Medicaid PDL in 2003, the General Assembly has strongly insisted on a "carve-out" for behavioral health medications due to the unique challenges involved with treating mental health problems.

 “The Commonwealth continues to face challenging economic times,” said Del. Riley Ingram (R-62). “But studies have proven that restrictive medication policies often become more costly in the short- and long-term. I hope my fellow members of the General Assembly won’t just look at possible short-term savings when this budget amendment comes before us, but will realize the entire budget implications of increased costs incurred by possible hospitalizations and incarcerations and will not force the patient to jump through unnecessary hoops to get proper treatment.”

 Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-24), who also plans to vote against the amendment, said “It is crucial that people living with mental illness have access to the medication their physician prescribes and that the patient knows works best for them. Efforts to achieve short-term savings by restricting the medications available to the most vulnerable patients are likely to have long-term effects on the patients themselves and the taxpayers of Virginia.”

 The joint letter cited a study by the American Psychiatric Institute for Research and Education, which investigated 10 different state Medicaid programs that restricted access to mental health medication. The study found that the costs of restricting medication far outweighed any savings. Patients whose medications were restricted were over three times more likely to experience ER visits, hospitalizations, homelessness, suicidal behavior, or incarceration.  ...

In 2008, approximately 9,200 adults with a mental illness were incarcerated in prisons in Virginia—a figure that could rise without open access to mental health medications for Medicaid recipients. 

 ... The General Assembly and stakeholders have taken exceptional steps in recent years to improve access to psychiatric and mental health services.  Let’s continue those steps and continue open access to behavioral health medications.


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