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Ohio GOP Senate Change to Budget Could Endanger Program for At-Risk Youth

Lisa Norris holds up a picture of her 12-year-old daughter
Dan Konik
Statehouse News Bureau
Lisa Norris holds up a picture of her 12-year-old daughter Hannah, adopted as a toddler along with her brother. Norris describes her daughter as bubbly, creative and athletic, but says she also has aggressive episodes from trauma suffered years ago.

Among the items added to the budget by Senate Republicans was a proposal that would require Medicaid to essentially re-do its procurement process for the managed care plans that want to work with the state. Advocates have said if it’s not removed, it will cause major problems, especially in the new OhioRISE program for the state’s most troubled and vulnerable kids.

The $1 billion OhioRISE program is aimed at coordinating care for kids with complex and expensive mental and behavioral health issues across several different agencies, such as behavioral health and the justice system, while keeping families intact during treatment.

Lisa Norris of Columbus said it could be a lifesaver for her 12-year-old daughter Hannah, a candidate for a residential treatment program that costs $15,000 a month. She had to relinquish custody of her daughter to get her that help.

“If you found out tomorrow that your child had terminal cancer and the specialist was in Cincinnati, you would never as a parent be asked to put up $80,000 to get them in the door," Norris said. "Nor would you be ever asked to turn over custody of your child who has a life-threatening condition in order for them to get help. Anyone on the planet would say that's crazy."

Norris said Hannah is athletic and funny, but has significant trauma from her first years of life before and within the foster care system. Since she isn’t an abused child, because of the way kids are triaged in the system, Hannah ended up in a homeless shelter her first night away from her family.

An amendment added to the Senate budget would require a do-over of the Medicaid procurement process, to focus on whether applicants are Ohio based, the number of jobs created or lost with the state’s awarding of a contract, other economic factors, and whether the managed care organization has a record of quality services and customer satisfaction.

Loren Anthes with the Center for Community Solutions said while the Senate budget sought to exclude OhioRISE from that, he doesn’t think it’s possible.

“It would essentially mandate that the Ohio Department of Medicaid essentially rebid its contracts with managed care," Anthes said. "The challenge is that all of these different reforms are interlinked, so it would be like taking a gear out of a clock and expecting it to read the right time. It just does not work.”

Mark Butler of Columbus went through the custody relinquishment process with his son Andrew, now 23.

Andrew was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, but also has a severe intellectual disability, several mental illnesses, and he's nonverbal. And as he became a teen, Andrew also became violent.

Mark Butler
Mark Butler had to relinquish custody of his son, Andrew, now 23, in order to get him the care he needs for his health condition that include autism, a severe intellectual disability, and several mental health conditions.

Mark Butler said making the call to give up his youngest son to get him residential treatment a few years ago was the hardest he ever had to make.

“I remember saying I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, this feeling. And I promised that I would do everything I could to make sure other parents didn't have to do that," Butler said. "And that's why for seven years now, I've been coming to this building and meeting with senators and testifying, trying to change a broken system because a system that's broken for some of us is broken for all of us."

The Butlers’ situation is more stable now. Andrew lives a few minutes away from his family and sees his parents every weekend.

But that’s not the case for Lisa Norris and her daughter Hannah.

“We can't afford to wait for Hannah especially. It literally means the difference between her life and death. Six months down the road, my child might not be alive in this system. We can't keep her safe without the funding," Norris said. "And not only is that absolutely soul crushing to stand by and feel so helpless while we have the treatment, it's right there behind the glass door. We have the treatment to be able to help her. We don't have the money.”

The re-do of the procurement process was added into the budget by Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) and Sen. Teresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), both from northwest Ohio. It comes after a northwest Ohio provider said Ohio Medicaid’s decision not to award it a contract will disrupt care coordination for nearly 250,000 Ohioans in Medicaid and will mean 600 lost jobs and $81 million lost revenue for the state each year.

But Anthes calls the re-do an anti-competitive proposal and says it’s the first time he’s heard of a desire for Medicaid to create jobs.  Anthes also notes the conservative Buckeye Institute is on the same side as the Center for Community Solutions in raising questions about this proposal.

Copyright 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen Kasler
Contact Karen at 614/578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.