Medicaid growth trims Nevada mental health costs

CARSON CITY — Medicaid expansion has dramatically reduced Nevada’s general fund costs for providing mental health services, state officials told a panel of lawmakers Wednesday.

Richard Whitley, administrator of the Division of Public and Behavioral Health said that before Medicaid expansion last year, only 23 percent of patients were Medicaid-eligible, requiring the state to pick up the cost for 77 percent.

As of January, those ratios have flipped, with 80 percent of the 12,000 patients receiving behavioral health care are now covered by Medicaid with the federal government picking up the costs.

Speaking before a joint meeting of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, Whitley estimated that by the upcoming fiscal year the cost to the state general fund will drop from to $3.2 million from $10.5 million by maximizing cost allocation for behavioral health services.

Nevada is also on pace to add 47 forensic psychiatric beds at the Stein Hospital in Las Vegas, which is expected to be completed in September and remains a top priority for the division in the upcoming legislative session that begins Feb. 2.

The hospital will ease the wait time for inmates ordered by a judge to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether they are competent to stand trial. Currently, such exams are only done at Northern Nevada’s Lake’s Crossing in Sparks. About two-thirds of patients at Lake’s Crossing are from Southern Nevada.

The Clark County public defender’s office sued the state in 2013 over prolonged wait times to have clients evaluated. A settlement was reached last year requiring the state to cut wait times to two to three weeks.

The new beds in Las Vegas will further reduce the time to about seven days and also save on the expense of flying inmates back and forth, officials said.

Because Stein Hospital is certified by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the state will be able to seek reimbursement from the federal government for Medicaid-eligible inmates, further reducing costs.

Sandoval’s general fund budget includes $9 million next year and $11.5 million in 2017 for Stein Hospital. Most of those expenses will be to hire staff, Whitley said.

The division, which also oversees Nevada’s medical marijuana program, also told lawmakers that the first medical pot dispensaries could be operating this spring.

A survey sent to state-authorized medical marijuana providers showed six testing labs expect to open by the end of February, while 26 cultivation, 15 production and 19 dispensaries expect to open by the end of April.

As of December, there were 8,542 people in Nevada’s medical marijuana registry. The division projects that number will jump to more than 11,000 by June and nearly double again in two years.

Contact Sandra Chereb at or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.


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