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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tennessee Debates Bredesen's Approach

Editorial from the Tennessean:

There are times when evenhandedness can backfire. The proposed cuts to Tennessee's mental health services are a case in point.

By calling for cuts in virtually every segment of state government, Gov. Phil Bredesen appears to have fended off major opposition to his austere budget plan for 2010-11. But while most of the proposed cuts are tough, prudent, even admirable in the face of the state's continuing revenue shortfall, mental health is one area that should have been protected.

The state Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities had to eliminate 672 positions, or a fourth of its staff, in 2008 and 2009. It also had to get rid of more than 247 beds at its state hospital. The budget for 2010-11 proposes $9.4 million in cuts, and it raises the question: What will happen to the many Tennesseans who rely on state help with mental health problems?

To its credit, the Bredesen administration has so far managed to keep the $21.5 million for the Behavioral Health Safety Net. That program helps the most severely ill mental-health patients who do not qualify for TennCare and do not have private insurance. But this does nothing for lower-income Tennesseans who get help with their mental illness through TennCare.

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