Leslie Barton, a licensed clinical professional counselor at Free Spirit Counseling in Idaho Falls, received a letter from Idaho Medicaid Administrator Paul Leary indicating that unless Congress acts by Jan. 1 to override payment reductions, the cuts will take effect on that date.
Leary, in the letter, estimated those cutbacks will average 26.5 percent. But some of the cuts will run much deeper, Barton said.
For example, payment rates for 45-minute psychotherapy sessions would decrease from $60.60 to $31.04, a difference of 49 percent, Leary said in the letter.
Most of us would have to close up shop; there would be no way to survive on what they pay, Barton said.
If Medicaid providers were forced to close or reduce services, Barton fears that would hurt patients with mental illnesses who receive the benefits.
In Idaho, about 35,000 adults are on the enhanced Medicaid plan.
Citing recent mass-shootings in Colorado and Connecticut, Barton said it is more important than ever to bolster preventative mental health therapy, not cut programs that benefit those with mental illness.
I work with a lot of chronically mental ill folks, and if they dont have maintenance, thats when people start to make negative choices, Barton said. I am very disturbed by the whole thing.
Bonneville County Sheriff Paul Wilde said he is concerned about the possible effects of cuts on mental health therapy. Law enforcement officers are often the first line of response to a person whose mental health is in crisis. Wilde said his deputies have undergone crisis intervention training to partner with mental health professionals in responding to mental health emergencies.
Wilde also said mental illness appeared to be a common thread in the recent mass shootings that Barton cited.
When you start cutting funding for those things, that creates problems for us, Wilde said. We should be protecting our citizens rather than allowing somebody with mental illness to go without (treatment).
Since 2003, Congress has acted every year to override the Medicaid sustainable growth rate payment cuts, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said.
We do think (Congress) will take it up, Shanahan said. Thats our thought; were fairly confident they will and it doesnt seem be tied to the fiscal cliff or anything.
Barton is frustrated she was notified of the cuts so close to the deadline.
This is upsetting why not tell us in November or earlier in December, when we had time to contact our representatives back in Washington? Barton said. This just seems very suspect giving us this Thursday evening before Christmas break.
Eric Pettingill, a therapist and co-owner of the Mental Wellness Center in Idaho Falls, also is frustrated by the pending cuts.
Pettingill estimated businesses, such as his own, would be forced to reduce pay for master counselors from about $30 an hour to $14 an hour, if Congress doesnt intervene.
They may (accept) that temporarily, but you would see them leaving the state to find jobs somewhere else, Pettingill said.
Pettingill is optimistic Congress eventually will act to override the latest round of planned cuts, but said hes reached the point where enough is enough.
During the last three years, Pettingill said his business has been adversely affected by Medicaid cuts, reductions to services allowed and increasing bureaucratic red tape.