Under Obama, Billions Cut from Mental Health Programs
December 27, 2012 • 10:05AM

President Obama's promise to improve access to mental healthcare is as phony as his shedding a tear over the deaths of the Newtown, Connecticut children while he himself has authorized the killing of hundreds of children in drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere.

During the first three years of Obama's presidency, from 2009 to 2012, states cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD); the association calls this the largest reduction in funding since "de-institutional- ization" drive of the 1960s and '70s.

Since 2009 alone, 3,222 psychiatric hospital beds are no longer available to patients, and another 1,249 may disappear soon because of proposed closures, according to the NASMHPD. "That's about 10 percent of all state psychiatric hospital beds gone in about three years," said Dr. Robert Glover, the association's executive director.

"This is the worst, in my mind, significant budget cut in public mental health in decades, and it is beginning to show in very big ways," said Dr. Glover, who's worked in mental health for almost five decades, in interviews this month with ABC and the Huffington Post. "We have a 10-percent budget cut in real dollars [this year], and when you have that occur [alongside] increased demand on an overburdened system already, I can't tell you that people aren't being injured or hurt."

On top of all this, Obama's proposed FY2013 budget cut $142 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), bringing it down to $3.4 billion. Another $54 million could be eliminated through "non-program related activity." Mental Health Block Grants remained the same as FY2012. Suicide-prevention programs are reduced by $10 million, to $48 million.

Obama's proposed budget was, of course, never passed, the excuse being the "fiscal cliff" charade. And as part of this, Obama and House Speaker Boehner have discussed long-term cuts to Medicaid, which underwrites services for more than 60 percent of people in the public mental health system. Mental-health advocates say the result could be disastrous. "We already know that people who need help aren't getting it," Sarah Steverman, Director of State Policy for Mental Health America told MSNBC. "As there's a decrease in coverage or a decrease in providers, the longer people have to wait for appointments, the less likely they are to go. And then they're less likely to get the help that they need. It's always been a problem, and I think we'll see an even bigger problem if we do have cuts to Medicaid."

About 33% of all newly-insured people under the ACA Medicaid expansion have behavioral health conditions, said Joel E. Miller of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, in a July 15, 2012 presentation. Miller added that about one-half of that group could have serious mental illnesses.

And if sequestration takes place, there will be an eight- percent cut to resources that the mentally-ill depend on, including special education, supportive housing grants, and mental health research, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

As one example, by no means the worst: California has cut 21 percent, or $768 million, from its mental health services programs during the past three fiscal years, according to a November 2011 report from the National Alliance. This is only the the seventh-highest among all states. Almost 2 million adults in California — about 8 percent of the adult population — "need mental health treatment, and 1 in 12 Californians reported symptoms consistent with serious psychological distress and experienced difficulty functioning at home or at work," according to a study released last month by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.