This morning Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay spoke about the important connection between law-enforcement, mental illness and lack of insurance coverage. Below is the statement from David Jordan, Executive Director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, in response to Chief Ramsay’s comments:
I applaud Chief Ramsay for his willingness to talk about the connection between health coverage through KanCare, mental illness and how it impacts law-enforcement and communities across Kansas. Expanding KanCare will help provide care to Kansans suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders (SUD) who come in contact far too regularly with law enforcement as a result of an inability to get care. Expanding KanCare can help address that need.
Too often police departments and the criminal justice system in Kansas are forced to respond to the needs of Kansans who are mentally ill or suffering from a substance use problem and cannot get care. Traveling Kansas, we have heard stories about police officers who have had to scoop up mentally ill people for committing crimes, which could have been avoided if they had insurance and could afford their prescriptions. We have heard stories about how our jails are being forced to house people with mental illness because of inability to provide care to our neighbors. We can help address the situation by expanding KanCare, which would provide coverage to tens of thousands of Kansans who have mental illness and substance use issues.
In Kansas, nearly one-third of uninsured individuals who would qualify for an expanded KanCare program experienced mental illness or substance use disorders in past year. Less than 14% received treatment, largely due to lack of access to affordable care. Expanding KanCare will reduce unmet need for mental health and substance use disorders treatment. Those enrolled in Medicaid are 30% more likely to receive treatment. Connecting these individuals to behavioral health and other treatment services will help many of them to avoid returning to jail or prison.
Expanding KanCare is good for Kansas’ law-enforcement because it will improve access to treatment for over thirty thousand Kansans who suffer from mental illness and substance use disorders. Instead of struggling to get care and causing problems for law-enforcement, these citizens will have an opportunity to get treatment and to avoid interactions with the police and criminal justice system.
Chief Ramsay’s leadership on this issue is good policy, which will lead to a safe, healthier, and more vibrant communities.