The Buffalo News: Elizabeth McPartland: Another Voice: State must not reduce youth access to mental health care


December 18, 2019

For too long, we have ignored a growing mental health crisis among young people in New York State. Youth suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents in New York, yet families across the state struggle to access mental health care.

Half of the children with a mental or behavioral health condition in New York do not receive the treatment they need. Meanwhile, rates of depression among children and teens are climbing and the ratio of child psychiatrists to children in New York is 10,000 to 2.

In Erie County, we know the challenges around access to behavioral health care such as mental health and substance use treatment all too well. Twenty percent of youth ages 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition, yet only about 40% of those needing it receive treatment.

Low reimbursement rates have created a shortage of providers, which has resulted in significant waiting lists for treatment of those who request help. The actual cost of treatment within Erie County points further to the importance of early intervention. Case management (home-based) programs cost less than $1 per child per day, and outpatient counseling costs less than $2 per child per day. Compare this to the cost of out-of-home placement, which ranges between $10 to more than $300 per child per day, and the importance of investing in low-level, early treatment is clear.

Yet the state is planning to further reduce access to behavioral health services for families at the end of 2019.

New York State is expected to cut reimbursement rates for behavioral health services for Medicaid-eligible children and families offered under Children and Family Treatment and Support Services.

CFTSS, which launched at the beginning of the year, was designed to increase access to critical and sometimes lifesaving services such as crisis intervention, family peer support, community psychiatric supports and treatment, rehabilitation from substance use and more.

When the State rolled out CFTSS in January 2019, officials projected that the program would cover 200,000 eligible children. Advocates estimate that the state has only expanded access to an estimated 1,000 new children. The state will reach even fewer if the rate cuts proceed as planned.

Now is not the time to undercut these services before they have a chance to get off the ground. That’s why it’s crucial the state places an immediate moratorium on all cuts to behavioral health care for children. The current reimbursement rates for CFTSS services must be maintained.

We at Child & Family Services believe that all children, no matter their physical or mental condition, deserve the chance to thrive.

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