Eye on the General Assembly: Residents suffering from mental illness will soon have expanded access to health care thanks to a $1 million challenge grant awarded to the Virginia Health Care Foundation.
The grant is the result of multi-state legal settlements against Caremark and Express Scripts, two pharmacy-benefits management companies accused of deceptive business practices. The settlements were obtained by former Virginia attorney general Robert McDonnell and several other attorneys general from across the country.
“Mental illness is treatable, and we must do all we can to help those who suffer from it,” McDonnell said. “This grant will assist in that effort.”
The Virginia Health Care Foundation will use the initial funds to raise $1 million to provide more mental health care services.
“There is just a tremendous need for this right now,” said Debbie Oswalt, executive director of the Virginia Health Care Foundation.
Oswalt said foreclosures can often lead to more common forms of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety.
According to McDonnell, the funding will help people with depression and anxiety. Currently, most of the commonwealth’s mental health resources are focused on those suffering from more severe mental illnesses.
The grant will foster collaboration in communities between community health centers and community service boards that serve the mentally ill, Oswalt said.
Oswalt said many of the patients treated by the community service boards are uninsured, and the medications they are given to control their mental illnesses often have serious side effects, including diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Without insurance, these patients are often unable to receive primary medical care.
“There are studies that show that they typically die an average of 20 years prematurely, just because they don’t have medical care,” Oswalt said.
The full $2 million expected from the grant and the additional fundraising will be distributed through a competitive grant process to health safety-net providers across the commonwealth, giving them the opportunity to hire medical staff or pay for prescription medications
McDonnell, who resigned Feb. 20 to run for governor, said it was a rewarding step to make this grant announcement as one of his last official acts as attorney general. Deputy Attorney General Bill Mims, a former senator from Eastern Loudon, is McDonnell’s likely successor, but Mims must be appointed by the General Assembly.
Nicholas Langhorne is a VCU journalism student and contributed this story through the Capital News Service.