My view: Mental health and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill
January 15, 2013
While the nation, the White House, and Congress are coming to grips with proposals to curb the carnage of mass shootings, there is one sub issue with a meeting of minds: mental health and how to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
There are two thrusts: One, to improve the reporting to data banks of those deemed by the courts to be a danger to themselves and those around them, and the other is to give greater access to mental health services. None of these alone is a silver bullet, but together they will help save lives and reduce the frequency of such gun violence.
Thanks to the horrors of Columbine and the Aurora Movie Theater tragedies, Colorado has become an icon for mass shootings. Our state is also leading the way in seeking solutions. Gov. John Hickenlooper made some key proposals in December and in his State of the State address. Obamacare, which will be fully implemented in 2014, will also make access for all to some affordable mental health services a reality.
We thought we were safer than we are. We thought courts that ruled someone a mental health danger reported the names to a data bank, but we learned that Colorado only updated information twice a year. We thought closing the gun show loophole in Colorado, requiring background checks before purchase, had resolved that problem. Now we learn 40 percent of the sales conducted in private are not subject to such checks.
We thought that when laws required employer-provided insurance and Medicaid to cover some mental health services, we had solved the access issue. However, we learned through the Colorado Health Institute that over 640,000 adults in Colorado were uninsured by anyone (24 percent of Grand County). And then we wondered why those who were mass shooters appearing to be mentally disturbed still committed their crimes with ever increasing frequency and death tolls.
Obamacare will help make access to mental health services affordable to all in Colorado. Those who do not have health insurance now will be able to buy insurance at rates according to their income levels in 2014. Colorado has just agreed to add 160,000 of the currently uninsured to Medicaid beginning in 2014. This means an individual earning $14,856 or a family of four earning up to $30,657 may qualify for Medicaid, which includes mental health services.
The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare includes a series of measures designed to bring down the cost of Medicaid while improving health outcomes, according to the National Mental Health Association – Colorado. Over the next 10 years, according to the governor and the state’s director of Healthcare Policy and Financing, Sue Birch, the expansion and other reforms will save Colorado taxpayers up to $280 million.
Gov. Hickenlooper has also proposed the state spend $18.5 million in the 2013 state budget to provide a crisis response hotline and walk-in crisis centers around the state, to expand jail-located mental health beds, and to provide housing and short-term residential facilities for those transitioning to the community. The proposal would align various laws for civil commitments for treatment, clarifying options for providers of mental health and substance abuse services.
In addition, reporting of mental health records sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation would be made in real time instead of twice a year to provide up to date background checks. In his State of the State address, the governor urged “universal background checks” for all purchases of firearms.
The question is will the legislature and the public, including 2nd Amendment advocates, put their money where their mouth is or will Hickenlooper’s proposal end up in the budget cutting heap in these times of tough public finances. We should hope not.