As Pope Francis has said, “Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.”

One of the ways the issue of healthcare is showing up in the Iowa Legislature this year is through a discussion about government-funded mental health services.

In 1996, as part of an effort to shift mental health funding from counties to the state budget, legislation imposed a cap on the total dollar amount in property taxes counties could levy for mental health services.

In 2013, Iowa established mental health regions comprised of one or more counties. The current property tax funding stream cannot address inequities between growing urban counties with frozen levy caps and rural counties with declining populations, which could lower their property taxes by sharing responsibilities for service delivery. The state was planning to make up the difference between the cap and what was necessary to meet the needs. Unfortunately, the state has not been able to follow through on appropriating the money.

This has created some grave challenges that should be addressed. The state has insufficient crisis beds and an inadequate mental health workforce. Wait times for care are too long and services may be available only at some distance away. This contributes to worsening mental health and heavier burdens on family members and the community. Persons who don’t receive care are more likely to end up in our criminal justice system.

So what is the Catholic Church’s interest in this issue? During the past centuries the Church has sponsored many health care ministries. Making sure that people have access to good health care has been a legislative priority for many years for the bishops.

The ICC does not typically take a position on specific tax rates; however, we have opposed budget caps that get in the way of an appropriate government response to the needs of the poor and vulnerable, like people who suffer from mental illne

We expect to see legislation be introduced that would raise the cap on the county mental health tax levy that can be collected through property taxes. Specifically, it would allow county supervisors to set their county’s property tax levy for mental health services up to a per capita expenditure target of $47.28 multiplied by the county’s general population. Mental health funding would remain a local decision, with no change to state appropriations.

 

Did you know?

Funds raised through county property taxes are just one source of funding for mental health services in Iowa. Other monies come from commercial health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, county, state and federal funds. The property tax levy funds primarily address crisis care and education in the local community. This helps to cover Iowans who are uninsured, Iowans with high insurance deductibles, and provides critical access to crisis services for Iowans facing long wait times for an appointment with a mental health practitioner.