The data on Florida’s mental health problem tells the story: People whose mental illness goes untreated are more likely to be addicted to drugs, have children in the state’s child welfare system, draw unemployment checks, and land in prison.
The total cost to taxpayers is unknown but, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Florida ranks 49th in terms of per capita spending on mental health.
After another year of tragic headlines, Florida legislators have proposed at least 22 bills that make the most dramatic changes to the state’s mental health delivery system in decades.
The proposals would change everything from the way the mentally ill are treated by law enforcement, doctors, child welfare workers and courts to the way the state matches federal mental health money. If successful, the state also would get $40 million more in federal Medicaid funds to cover mental health services for uninsured Floridians.
But there is a catch: The reform effort would also end the system’s dependence on not-for-profit managed care providers and would open the door to for-profit managed care companies to compete for the $506 million in state business.
“We need to allow competition in the system,’’ said Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, who is sponsoring the House bill, HB 7119.