Iowa’s mental health system would be subjected to statewide standards, and six regional hubs rather than the state’s 99 counties would coordinate the services under an overhaul approved Monday by the Senate.
The measure that cleared the Senate on a 32-18 vote seeks to ensure all Iowans get similar services. Services would still be done at the local level, but supporters said a regionalized approach to coordinating them would be an improvement from the current system, where the quality of care can vary widely from county to county.
“It allows Iowans to take care of Iowans,” said Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines. “This is a part of the health care system where people are already ill.”
Hatch said the proposal would cost $42 million in the first year. The measure sent to the House doesn’t include funding, and Hatch said there would be more debate later in the session about how to pay for the new approach.
The Legislature last year voted to scrap the current mental health system, essentially applying pressure to come up with a replacement. Key lawmakers spent most of the summer in intense meetings hammering out details of the new system.
“This has had bipartisan support from the beginning,” Hatch said. “There are still some issues that need to be resolved.”
Hatch said throughout the months of bargaining over the issue, the focus was on the consumer.
State Department of Human Services head Chuck Palmer was a crucial force in shaping the final package, and pushed for the overhaul. Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said the governor is supportive of the effort but “he will want to look at the final product.”
Hatch said he worked from the beginning with Branstad appointees such as Palmer, and with Republican lawmakers because it was clear nothing would happen without their involvement, but he didn’t win over them all.
Senate Republican Leader Jerry Behn, R-Boone, opposed the measure.
“There are still too many unanswered questions on the funding,” Behn said.
Behn argued the final version will likely be written by a House-Senate conference committee, and he’s confident he’ll get another look at the issue.
“I’m absolutely convinced we’ll get another shot at this,” Behn said.