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Kansas Senate Rejects Mental Health Drug Bill

The Kansas Senate on Wednesday rejected a bill that would have allowed KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, to regulate mental health patients’ access to antipsychotic medications.

Fifteen Senators voted for Senate Bill 123, while 25 voted against the measure.

Since 2002, Kansas law has guaranteed Medicaid patients access to whatever behavioral health drugs their physician or psychiatrist sees fit to prescribe.

SB 123 would have repealed that law, allowing the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the KanCare managed care organizations to regulate the prescription processes.

Mental health advocates opposed the measure, warning legislators that it would add administrative barriers to a treatment system that’s already difficult to navigate, send some high-need patients into crises and shift a sizable portion of the system’s costs onto hospitals and jails.

“I’ll not mention any names, but I had one senator who everybody would have expected to be a ‘yes’ tell me that he voted ‘no’ because he had no idea what the real implications of this bill would be,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. “He said he was not comfortable voting ‘yes’ until he had a better understanding of what it would do.

“I don’t think he was alone,” Kelly said. “I think there was a fear that repealing the current statute without having anything to take its place wouldn’t ensure that these folks’ health care needs would be met. That proved to be a limb that most (senators) weren’t willing to go out on.”

Kelly said she thought the bill’s opponents had “22 solid votes.”

Mental health advocates spent much of this week calling and emailing their senators, urging them to oppose the bill.

“We believe that the Senate has heard the message: That a blanket repeal of the existing statute was unacceptable,” said Amy Campbell, a lobbyist and executive director for the Kansas Mental Health Coalition. “You don’t tear down the house without something to put in its place.”

The state’s pharmaceutical lobby opposed the bill as well.

Campbell said that during a morning meeting with the mental health coalition, Carla Dresher, assistant director of behavioral health services at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, announced that a workgroup charged with developing prescription policies would continue to meet, regardless of SB 123’s fate.

The work group is a joint project of KDADS and KDHE.

“We believe that this is an important process and should continue,” Campbell said. “Hopefully, some good policy initiatives will be put forward that everyone could support.”

During Senate debate Wednesday, Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Republican from Topeka who’s also a pharmacist, criticized KDHE and KDADS for limiting mental health consumers’ and service providers’ participation in the workgroup. The group, so far, has met once.

Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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