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At W&M, Deeds talks mental health policy, and Medicaid

Medicaid expansion isn't likely in Virginia anytime soon -- and for Virginians who may be struggling with mental illness, that's a big loss, says state Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Warm Springs.

He dropped by the Peninsula the other day to participate in the College of William & Mary's Mental Health Awareness Week, talking about the politics of mental health. His son, Gus, was a William & Mary student, and his suicide last year shook the entire state. He told the five dozen students who came about some of the reforms he pushed through the General Assembly aimed at improving the response of Virginia's mental health services in emergencies like Gus'.

But he also talked money, and he also talked politics when a William & Mary student asked about Medicaid and how it might help boost the state's woefully underfunded community mental health services, with their waiting lists of several thousand. Here's what he said:

"Medicaid expansion is a dead issue in Virginia right now and it's too bad. I don't care what your politics are, think about this…  -- And I didn't come here to talk partisan politics, but I just got to get a little hoarse for a minute," he said.

“Medicare Part D is prescription coverage for low-income seniors. That got passed, but never paid for. The buck got passed. We went to war in Iraq. The buck got passed. We went to war in Afghanistan. The buck got passed.

“The Affordable Care Act passed, and it's paid for. It's paid for by those people that make more than $200,000 a year with a 3.25-percent surcharge on their taxes," he said adding:

“In Virginia, we pay about $2.9 billion dollars for Medicaid expansion. Now we can't get all that money back; we don't have enough poor people. But we could get better than two-thirds of that money back, over $2.1 billion dollars a year. And about $200-some million of that would go for mental health care. Seventy-seven thousand people diagnosed with severe and significant mental illness would be eligible for Medicaid expansion if we were to adopt it in Virginia, but we didn't.

“So the answer to the question is yes, it would have a significant impact. All the stuff that went through the legislature this year cost less than $5 million. That was a drop in the bucket compared to what Medicaid expansion would have done for mental health care in Virginia: $202 million, 77,000 people.

“All the work I did would have been a drop in the bucket compared to that. But that's for naught. That's for another day's conversation.”


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