It was so inspiring to see more than 60 people come together at the Capitol on March 14th for the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organization’s Lobby Day, despite the horrific flooding and extreme weather that faced our state that day and continues to do so. I want to start by offering my prayers and thoughts to all those impacted by the floods. My friends and family in Northeast Nebraska were significantly impacted and it has been heartbreaking to learn of the breadth of damage and loss that faces so many. I do believe we as a state will pull together and come out of this stronger, but I think there is a long road ahead for us.
Today I want to bring attention to LB327. I want to thank Senator Bolz for introducing this bill, which asks for a five percent increase per year for the two year budget in rates for behavioral health services in Medicaid and Probation. This bill begins to address the significant gap in funding that providers receive when offering these services. Strong mental health is essential to all Nebraskans’ overall health. Mental health and substance use do not discriminate. They impact Nebraskans from all demographics, in every pocket of our state.
However, due to the passage of Medicaid Expansion last fall, we will be seeing more Nebraskans who are working, yet low income, accessing care in our Medicaid System. We need to ensure that rates start reaching an adequate level so that providers can offer quality services to all Nebraskans, and not have to start making difficult and damaging decisions on who they are able to serve based on whether they will be reimbursed fairly.
For far too long behavioral health has been veiled by an unfair stigma that has caused a myriad of issues for both providers and those individuals who are directly impacted by a behavioral health condition alike. Whether it be the reimbursement rates or science that has never caught up, a fear that has kept an individual who is in desperate need of help from reaching out and asking for it, or a glare of disproval cast on an individual in crisis due to misperceptions created by society – each of these stems from the stigma that exists. And each of these proves incredibly damaging the longer we allow them to go on.
I’ve lived in Nebraska all of my life. From that experience I’ve learned what hard work is; how to properly treat your neighbor; that a small-town feel even in a big city isn’t a bad thing – it is something to be embraced and appreciated; and that we can be proud of where we come from. However, I have also learned that we too often prioritize taxes, roads, and infrastructure over the great people – all of the great people –who make Nebraska what it is. Please don’t misunderstand me, all of those things are crucial to our state thriving, but so are our people, and if they aren’t healthy – both physically and mentally – none of the other things matter.
Nebraska currently ranks #21 in our country in per-enrollee spending on behavioral health services. Some may say, “Yes, but that’s in the top half!” To them I would ask, in what other area are we not striving to be at the top? In what other area would we as a state be content with #21? I would argue none. This is our opportunity to prioritize the people of our great state, and pave the way to quality behavioral health services for all.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia 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.