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Governor Brownback Unveils Plan To Improve Mental Health Care, But Some Say He Could Do Better

Gov.  Sam Brownback is making a major push to improve the state’s mental health system. The governor's plan creates a behavioral health sub-cabinet within state government, targets substance abuse for its role in exacerbating mental illness, and increases financial investment in current treatment programs, among other things. 

Advocates for Kansans with mental illness say the governor’s initiative would be more effective if it also included expanding Medicaid.

Gov.  Brownback wants to spend an extra $9.5 million on services for the mentally ill. Most of the money--$7 million--would come from a federal welfare program designed to help at-risk families.

Phyllis Gilmore, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Children and Families, says that's because for many, drug and alcohol abuse is at the root of their mental health problems.

"Substance use disorder and behavioral health issues often go hand in hand, and they are prominent problems with many of the families we serve," Gilmore said.

Gov. Brownback is also proposing to spend $1 million to help community mental health centers cover the cost of serving uninsured Kansans.

However, advocate Rick Cagan says expanding Medicaid would be more effective.  

"Providing funding to mental health centers for the uninsured is a poor alternative," he said.  Cagan heads the state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He says the governor's refusal to expand Medicaid is denying mental health services to tens of thousands of low-income adults.