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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — After being forced by a lawsuit to spend more on mental health, New Hampshire is winning praise from a national advocacy group for increasing funding and passing bills in 2015 aimed at giving people better access to care.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness on Tuesday released a report tracking state spending and legislation on mental health that shows New Hampshire is one of 11 states that has increased mental health funding every year since 2013. The new spending is due in part to a legal settlement New Hampshire signed with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013 over inadequate community mental health services. The current state budget includes $23 million for the settlement over the next two years.
State advocates say services are improving, but the goals in the settlement are far from being fully implemented.
"There's still a lot of work to be done, and we look forward to continuing to work with (the state) to make this happen," said Amy Messer, executive director of the Disability Rights Center in New Hampshire, which was party to the lawsuit.
NAMI's study does not provide specific numbers on state's year-to-year spending increases, but it does highlight legislation passed in each state. New Hampshire is one of 36 states to receive a "gold star" on certain pieces of legislation passed in 2015.
The bills mentioned in the report do the following:
— Require mental health professionals to receive continuing education in suicide prevention and intervention when they renew their licenses every two years.
— Suspend prior authorization rules from managed care organizations for people in community mental health programs who receive medications for severe illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
— Allow doctors to prescribe mental health medications through telemedicine services, where doctors and patients communicate remotely.
The report gives New Hampshire a "red flag" for failing to reauthorize the state's Medicaid expansion plan beyond the end of 2016 when it will sunset. Lawmakers plan to debate reauthorization when they return to Concord in January.
Beyond the legislation, the state continues to implement the mental health settlement. It requires the state to set up mobile crisis units to respond to people on-site during crisis situations with the aim of keeping them from being hospitalized. One mobile crisis unit is running in Concord and another is set to begin in Manchester next year, Messer said. The settlement also requires the state to improve supported housing and employment for people with mental illness.
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