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New SAMHSA Block Grant Guidlines: Threat or Opportunity?

April 13, 2011
by Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D.
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On April 11, 2011 the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued new guidelines for its large block grant programs which fund mental health and substance abuse treatment across the nation. This was done in order to make them more compatible with changes resulting from new technologies (clinical and informational) as well as legislation such as substance abuse parity and the Affordable Care Act. Under the new approach, block grants aim at supplementing services covered by Medicaid and Medicare and private insurance.
The funding priorities established include:
  1. Individuals without insurance
  2. Services not covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurance
  3. Primary prevention
  4. National performance and outcome evaluation

In addition, SAMHSA will be looking at ways to reach new populations, better conduct needs assessments, develop collaborative information systems, form strategic partnerships, increase the focus on recovery, and emphasize the importance of accountability. The guidelines also streamlined the process so that the substance abuse and mental health grants are more uniform in terms of application, assurance, and reporting.

But what will all this really mean for providers and clients? Is it merely another set of federal hoops to jump through, that will end up diverting funds from the actual provision of needed services. Or is it a real opportunity to expand services to populations that have been historically ignored by Medicaid and Medicare, such as people with severe and persistent mental illness, whose notion of recovery is different from federal guidelines regarding rehabilitation? Also will these guidelines have any meaning at all, if the Affordable Care Act ends up being gutted by the new Congress or if changes in Medicaid to reduce the deficit, give states the option to scale back services and limit eligibility. Only time will tell.


Terry Stawar

President/CEO (LifeSpring, Inc.)

Terry Stawar


Terry L. Stawar, EdD, is President and CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems, a community behavioral...

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