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May 12, 2023 -   By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact - News


Big Sky Connection - Advocates say lawmakers made good progress this legislative session addressing many of Montana's critical mental health-care needs, Comments from Mat Kuntz (KOONTZ), executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Montana.

Mark Moran

May 12, 2023 - Montana's mental health advocates said state lawmakers addressed many of the state's pressing needs in the just-completed legislative session, but more work remains to be done.

The Montana Legislature addressed increasing funding for youth suicide prevention, adding beds at crisis care centers, improving Medicaid reimbursement rates for community behavioral health providers, increasing the number of community behavioral health centers and reworking conditional-release programs for offenders with serious mental health conditions.

Matt Kuntz, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Montana, said it is exactly how lawmakers should address the state's critical mental health needs.

"There was a big, bipartisan push for mental health," Kuntz acknowledged. "There's a lot of things our country doesn't agree about right now. There's a lot of things our state doesn't agree about right now. But to see bipartisan agreement on mental health is really positive."

Kuntz pointed out that while lawmakers did a lot to support mental health issues in the state, he and other advocates are already thinking about how to make more progress in the next legislative session.

While Medicaid reimbursement rates are slightly higher than they have been, Kuntz explained because reimbursement rates are still below where they should be, caregiver wages stay low, making it hard to attract providers to the profession.

"It's going to be a challenge to keep moving forward with increasing the number of care providers, both clinicians and technical staff," Kuntz cautioned. "Getting those bodies to serve and care for the people and make mental health their career is a long-term challenge, especially coming out of COVID."

Kuntz added he and other advocates are already planning to ask for higher Medicaid reimbursement rates moving forward.

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