State will end all drug treatment funds
Illinois will end all state funding for substance-abuse treatment and prevention programs next month, a move that could close some alcohol and drug-treatment centers across the state, advocates say.
State officials told providers on Friday that deep spending cuts proposed in Gov. Pat Quinn's fiscal 2012 budget, which starts July 1, will be imposed for the current fiscal year as of March 15.
Providers like Prairie Health Systems in Champaign, which were already gearing up to fight the proposed 2012 cuts, now face the prospect of laying off employees and cutting off services to clients within weeks.
"It's the most devastating picture possible. There's real concern about the entire system being shut down because providers will close," said Sara Howe, chief executive officer of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association in Springfield.
Howe said she was notified by Department of Human Services Secretary Michelle Saddler early Friday that all state general revenue funding for addiction prevention and treatment would be eliminated as of March 15. The system would rely only on federal Medicaid dollars.
That would mean only those who qualify for Medicaid, the government health insurance system for the poor, would be eligible for treatment services, she said.
Only about 20 percent of the clients at state-funded treatment centers are Medicaid-eligible, "so 80 percent of our clients on March 15 would be thrown out of care," or about 55,000 people, she said.
Howe said the state is also eliminating its funding for addiction-prevention services, which help almost 230,000 youths in communities throughout the state each year.
"It's the least expensive way to deal with addiction – prevent it before it starts," she said.
Bruce Suardini, CEO of Prairie Health System, said about 60 percent of his funding comes through the Department of Human Services' alcohol and substance abuse division, including about $1.35 million annually from general revenue funding, which would be lost.
Prairie Health also receives funding for its $4.8 million budget from other federal grants, local funding sources like the United Way and Champaign County Mental Health Board, third-party insurance and self-pay clients. The agency, which has 85 employees, serves about 5,000 people a year through its prevention, outpatient, residential and detoxification programs, he said.
The state also plans to implement 6 percent reductions in Medicaid reimbursement rates, Suardini said. And Medicaid funding for substance abuse treatment is limited to women, so men wouldn't be covered, he said.
He isn't sure how Prairie Health will absorb the funding cuts, saying he has an emergency board meeting scheduled for Monday.
In response to questions from The News-Gazette, Department of Human Services spokeswoman Stacey Solano e-mailed a statement saying that "increased demand for services during the economic recession" had caused the department's budget deficit.
"The department is now faced with the difficult but necessary decision of reducing services in order to pay our bills for the remainder of the fiscal year while preserving core services. We are aware of the hardships these tough choices will create and value the commitment of our providers who serve some of the most vulnerable citizens of Illinois," the statement said.
The governor was given emergency budget authority for fiscal 2011, but Howe said her agency is working with legislators now to determine if he has the authority to make these cuts.
"There's still a question of the legality of cutting this much money at this time," she said.
The March 15 deadline gives providers little time to make decisions about staffing and inform clients about the impending change, Howe said.
"Many of them said they would be on the brink of shutdown," she said.
For fiscal 2012, the proposed cuts would total $54 million, Howe said. But no one's sure exactly how much money will be cut for the current fiscal year, because it's unclear how much the state has already spent, Howe said. The state is behind on its reimbursements to providers.
Prevention services that could be affected include Operation Snowball, Teen REACH and school-based programs, Howe said.
"We're talking about the majority of programs that we know are effective, that save the state money, and yet they're gone in one swoop," she said.
Dropping drug-treatment services also will have implications for hospitals, which are already seeing emergency rooms fill up with people who need services, she said.
"People cannot get into treatment, so they are instead turning to hospitals, at a much higher cost," she said.