Experts say Medicaid expansion will prevent massacres like Sandy Hook

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 12:10 p.m. MST

Dilma Steiner, of Newtown, Conn., visits a sidewalk memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children.

David Goldman, AP

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Some experts are done blaming the guns.

In the wake of last week's tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., many are starting to point the finger at U.S. government programs like Medicaid, saying those programs need to be expanded to prevent future tragedies.

“Medicaid is hands down the most important source of funding for public mental health services,” Ron Honberg, the director for policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

The Supreme Court struck the mandate requiring states to expand Medicaid programs, which made it optional, according to Businessweek. Though no one is certain if Adam Lanza was on Medicaid, services for non-poor mentally ill patients have been hit hard by the recession.

The upcoming “fiscal cliff” has many worried that an already ill-equipped Medicaid system will suffer further cuts.

“One of my greatest frustrations with clinical practice is that there are far too many times when I lack the tools necessary to care for children who need help,” Aaron Carroll, director of Health Policy and Professionalism Research at Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a column on CNN.com. “It's relatively easy to cure an infection or an acute physical ailment. It's so much harder to take a mental health issue.”

More than 60 percent of people in the public mental health system will be affected if long-term cuts to Medicaid are made, according to MSNBC.

“As there’s a decrease in coverage or a decrease in providers, the longer people have to wait for appointments, the less likely they are to go,” Sarah Steverman, director of State Policy for Mental Health America, told MSNBC. “And then they’re less likely to get the help that they need. It’s always been a problem, and I think we’ll see an even bigger problem if we do have cuts to Medicaid.”

Lawmakers are, however, adding mental health services to their priorities, according to an article in the Deseret News.

"We have to deal with the mental health aspect," Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz said on "This Week." "I think we absolutely should talk about the intersection of a lethal weapon and (how) it relates to mental health. Absolutely we've got to have that discussion in this country."

EMAIL: jferguson@desnews.com

TWITTER: @joeyferguson

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