Cigarette, alcohol and sports-wagering tax increases under consideration to fund long-term mental health initiatives

INDIANAPOLIS — Since 988’s launch two years ago, Indiana has become a nationwide leader when it comes to answering the calls of those in need of mental health services.

According to a report released during Wednesday’s Indiana Behavioral Health Commission meeting, Indiana ranks among the top ten states for 988 response rates.

”The data that we saw today is encouraging,” State Sen. Michael Crider (R-Greenfield) said.

”Over 95% of our calls are being answered,” State Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) said.

”Before, we just had a call center in a specific part of the state, and to be able to roll that out statewide, really fills the gap, “State Rep. Victoria Garcia Wilburn (D-Fishers) said.

The commission also said the state is on track to launch the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic pilot program next January.

”Now we’ve got to make sure that when people place the call that there’s somewhere for them to go, that there are services for them to receive, and so that our next step,” State Sen. Andrea Hunley, (D-Indianapolis) said.

Despite these successes, the question of how these initiatives will be funded long-term remains unanswered—especially amid the state’s nearly billion-dollar Medicaid shortfall.

”The most difficult part of that discussion will be around using general fund dollars to fund additional effort,” State Sen. Crider said.

Wednesday, the commission proposed a number of sustainable 988 and mental health funding options, including increases to the state’s sports wagering tax, cigarette tax, and alcohol tax.

”It’s good practice to modernize our tax codes, and with the implementation of selling alcohol seven days a week and happy hour, surely there could be some good bipartisan good faith efforts supports to see some sort of happy medium,” State Rep. Garcia Wilburn said.

”It’s a wise idea to have a suite of options,” State Sen. Crider said. Another option on the table he proposed is a 988 cell phone fee (similar to the one Hoosiers pay to fund Indiana’s 911 operations).

”There, of course, is resistance from a variety of places to that idea, but it’s a mechanism that was put in place by the federal government when they passed the 988 legislation—give states an option for funding,” State Sen. Crider said. ”I’ll be part of that discussion, and so I’m looking forward to seeing what the appetite is, and really what the financial environment looks like in the later fiscal forecast this fall.”

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