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Published: Monday, 2/4/2008

Ohio mental health policy shift feared


COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland's changes to the state's mental health policies - mandating preauthorization for doctors who prescribe psychiatric drugs and delaying proposed changes in a program for autistic children - have angered families of those with mental illnesses and their advocates.

The revised drug policy requires general practitioners to be preauthorized before they write prescriptions for psychiatric drugs covered by Medicaid. State officials estimate that general doctors write about 30 to 40 percent of those prescriptions.

Psychiatrists in community mental health centers will continue to be exempt from the requirement and patients who are considered clinically "stable" on a particular drug may continue to take it without preapproval, Dennis Evans, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said.

"The goal was to make sure that the drugs are being prescribed in the most effective manner," Mr. Evans said.

The General Assembly included a provision in the state budget that would have prevented preauthorization requirements. But Mr. Strickland used his line-item veto to delete the language. Mr. Strickland argued that advance approval would save $20 million to $47 million annually.

The administration also has delayed a billing change that threatens to eliminate coverage of costly specialized treatment for autistic children under the state's Medicaid program. The state will continue to pay for those services until July 1.

The change is necessary to comply with federal regulations, Scarlet Bouder, spokesman for the Department of Job and Family Services, said. Also, county officials have complained that the services are too expensive, she said.

Parents and advocates worry that if treatment is lost, children will wait years for slots in other programs.

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