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More money available for state's mentally ill


HELENA - Montanans suffering from mental illness may be able to get $175 more per month for prescription drugs than lawmakers originally thought was available.

Earlier this year, the Legislature thought the state could afford to spend only $250 a month on medication for each low-income Montanan suffering from mental illness.

But accountants in the state's Addictive and Mental Disorders Division now say they think up to $425 in prescription drug benefits per month will be available.

The increase is attributed to changes the state made in the way it pays providers for mental health services.

Instead of paying a fee to most any provider who gives service to patients they treat, the state will give a set amount of money to roughly 10 firms to treat all Mental Health Services Plan patients who show up at their door.

These companies, being chosen by the state now, will be obligated by contract to serve all the poor people with mental illness who seek treatment. About 5,000 people are served

The plan covers people not eligible for Medicaid, but who earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $13,470 per year.

Although the system was used in the past, mental health service providers say it could backfire since they will have an obligation to serve every qualifying person while on a fixed budget.

Lawmakers, who struggled to find more money for the program earlier this year, said it is important to give the mentally ill poor the right medication to keep them out of jails and hospitals.

''Mental health services cannot work without pharmacy benefits,'' Sen. Emily Stonington, D-Bozeman, said at the Legislature. ''You'll have a disaster waiting to happen.''

Also, program administrators said they will be able to give even more benefits to people with extreme needs by dipping into a contingency fund. That will allow them to pay for cases that cost $1,000 a month or more.


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