SAN DIEGO COUNTY: Children’s Mental Health Budget Doubles
San Diego County is set to receive $9.3 million this year and $17 million next year in additional Medi-Cal funding to expand the region's mental health services for children, the San Diego Tribune reports. The funding boost, which "stems from the settlement of a class action lawsuit that claimed the state's Medi-Cal program failed to provide treatment authorized under the federal Medicaid statute," doubles the county's current $32 million children's mental health services budget. The extra money will "provide help for mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children who have had to wait while those with more severe problems received the bulk of the services" and will "make it possible to focus on early intervention to head off problems before a child requires expensive treatment." Director of Children's Mental Health Services Alfredo Aguirre said, "It's a great day in San Diego County."
But some question why it took the county so long to take advantage of the funds, which have been available since 1995. Jim Preis, attorney for Los Angeles-based Mental Health Advocacy Services, which brought the lawsuit against the state, said it was "somewhat surprising" that San Diego County did not follow the leads of Sacramento and Los Angeles counties by immediately expanding children's mental health services. "It's not a separate program. It's just an augmentation to Medi-Cal. You just have to start spending more Medi-Cal service dollars on kids," he said. Dr. Robert K. Ross, director of the county's Health and Human Services Agency, however, contended that "he wanted to proceed cautiously to make sure the Medi-Cal billing was done properly" so that no claims would later be denied. He noted, "If it made us late to the party, then we're late to the party." Carol Lichte, Lakeside school superintendent, added that "the important thing" now is that the "money soon will find its way to children who need it." The additional funding is the latest boost to mental health services for California residents, coming only a about month after Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation mandating insurers to establish parity in their mental health coverage (Brooks, 11/7).