Calif. Bills Targeting Foster System’s Rx Use Could Cost $22M
A legislative package aimed at reducing the amount of psychiatric medication prescribed to children in California's foster care system could cost the state more than $22 million annually, the San Jose Mercury News reports (de Sá, San Jose Mercury News, 5/18).
Details of Legislative Package
The legislative package to reform psychiatric drug use among foster youth was introduced in response to a Mercury News investigation that found such children are prescribed psychiatric drugs at a rate three times higher than the national average.
It includes four bills:
- SB 238, by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions;
- SB 253, by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which would change the juvenile courts' process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child;
- SB 319, by Beall, which would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications; and
- SB 484, by Beall, which would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings (California Healthline, 4/23).
Various cost estimates project that the package of bills could cost the state between $8 million and more than $22 million per year. SB 238 alone could cost more than $12 million, according to an analysis for the state Senate.
However, the total potential cost is within the range of other foster care reforms, the Mercury News reports.
Some stakeholders are cautiously optimistic that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) would sign the legislative package if it advances through the state Legislature, according to the Mercury News.
For example, Brown included in his revised fiscal year 2015-2016 budget plan:
- $1.5 million for social worker training that would include psychiatric medication issues; and
- $149,000 to bolster data collection on prescribing practices.
Kathryn Dresslar of the Children's Partnership said, "The fact that there are dollars in the budget right now that specifically mention training for psychotropic drugs and the kind of tracking that we need is good news -- I think that means that the administration intends to address this problem in some way to a greater extent than they have in the past."
Meanwhile, Mike Herald -- a legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty -- noted that the package's potential $8 million annual cost is not that high "[w]hen you consider the long-term harm and consequences to the kids being doped up like this."
Still, Herald added that "just about anything is subject to [Brown's] rejection if it's going to cost millions of dollars" (San Jose Mercury News, 5/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.