Mental health expert discusses autisim funding in Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- More and more people across Iowa with severe autism are being forced out of their group home. The person who oversees mental health services in nine counties in Eastern Iowa says it's because of the state's funding system.

Last week KCRG-TV9 told you about Daulton and Kevin (see video). The two men who have severe autism are being put out of their group home in Cedar Rapids at the end of the month. It's because the non-profit that runs the home can't afford their care.

The head of Mental Health in nine counties here in eastern Iowa, including Linn and Johnson Counties, says that's all because of state Medicaid funding.

Mechelle Dhondt says, "The state is broke, so unless the legislature gives more money to Medicaid, there's really nothing DHS can do. And then in following, there's really nothing the MCO can do.”

Dhondt does not deal directly with Medicaid, but as the head of mental health services in East Central Iowa, she noticed in the switch to privatized Medicaid there was a problem when caring for the severely disabled.

That's because the state pays a flat fee for everyone in the highest tier of needs. She says that's not always enough for people like Kevin and Daulton. She says, "They need to break out from the tier system these folks that have severe needs and probably do a cost analysis of what the real cost is and pay that."

She says the state is not paying MCO's enough for the type of care people with severe cases need. In most cases people like Dalton and Kevin would go to an institution. Dhont says that's not the best place for them.

She says, "You can guarantee that the behaviors will escalate again. They may even go higher than they were before."

Her short term solution would be to analyze those with severe disabilities on a case-by-case basis.
But that would mean a change in law and likely more money.