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It seems like every time we connect with a news source we are hearing about healthcare, insurance, Medicaid, turmoil in Washington, D.C., and swirling accusations and speculation about what lies ahead. When in reality, what we need to be focusing on are the thousands of people who will be impacted by significant changes to these programs. Many of these people come from extremely vulnerable populations, and many are receiving behavioral healthcare services. We need to do what we can to be heard and protect these individuals’ rights to essential healthcare benefits, such as mental healthcare. No matter how a politician chooses to spin it, behavioral healthcare IS an essential healthcare benefit. Physical and behavioral health are both essential to an individual’s overall wellness. It is high time that politicians from both sides of the aisle step up and represent the true needs of their constituents.

I understand that Medicaid can serve as a “four letter word” to some, but here are the facts. According to recently released data by our state’s fiscal office, in Nebraska 67% of Medicaid pays for Children’s Services, 9% for adults receiving Aid to Dependent Children benefits, 7% for the aging population, and 15% for those who are blind and disabled (2% unknown at this time). Those are not “able bodied individuals” taking advantage of a system. These are vulnerable populations who need and deserve care. At times it feels like a losing battle. It feels like our voice barely rises above a whisper amongst the screaming chaos of politics, but it’s imperative that we continue raising our voices to be heard. I have not lost faith yet, but do know there is a lot of work to be done.

I was recently elected President of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations (NABHO) and will begin serving in this capacity on July 1st. I am honored to serve in this role and will bring a unique perspective as the foundation is one of the very few non-service providers in the association. I plan to continue to represent NABHO effectively, as has been done so well for decades, making sure providers receive fair and adequate rate reimbursements, while also making sure that the voices of those who are most deeply impacted by changes to our healthcare system have a voice and are represented fairly. If you are a resident of Nebraska and have a story to tell pertaining to behavioral health, please feel free to reach out and share that with me so that I can do what I can to paint a more accurate picture of the lives impacted by indecision, failure to act, and not putting Nebraskans above politics. Please email me at jhebenstreit@thekimfoundation.org.

There is also another way to get involved. The National Council for Behavioral Health hosts an annual Hill Day out in Washington, D.C. in October. I will be serving as the State Captain for Nebraska for the third year. With the state of affairs standing as it does, I want as many Nebraskans as possible swarming the Hill and making sure Senators Sasse & Fischer and Representatives Smith, Bacon, and Fortenberry hear firsthand how Nebraskans have been impacted by recent and potential changes. The event runs October 2-3, with registration beginning on the 1st. Monday consists of a Public Policy Institute that is a full day of policy sessions, workshops, and keynote speakers. Tuesday will be the day when our state group meets with each of our elected officials and/or their staff to advocate for the behavioral health needs of our state. The event itself is free, though every participant is responsible for their own travel and lodging. If you are unable to attend, but have an issue you want to make sure is addressed or a story to tell, please email that to me at jhebenstreit@thekimfoundation.org and I will ensure it is expressed during our visits. For more information, visit https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/events-and-training/hill-day/hill-day/.

Again, I understand at times it feels like a losing battle, but I am confident that with a coordinated, concerted effort, we will be heard, and things will improve. Please join me in facilitating change and bringing results to those who are most impacted by these actions and need our help.

Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation

Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.

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