Sit back, close your eyes — after you have read this of course — and imagine your daughter, friend, brother or spouse suffering with no help in sight. A year ago you saw them excelling in life, overcoming their illness, stable with only happiness for the future when suddenly their standard medication was changed, their health services discontinued and their housing no longer an option. Now you are seeing your loved one’s health deteriorate, and each day becomes harder to cope.Arizona State Capitol, Flickr, Willem van Bergen

This scenario was a reality for thousands of children and adults facing mental illness last July when the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) saw serious cuts. Those who were not determined Title-19 eligible — those not under the poverty level — faced the loss of brand-name medications, supportive housing and services on which they previously relied.

With Arizona projecting a 1.15 billion-dollar deficit in FY 2012, Governor Janet Brewer released her proposed budget cuts for FY 2011. These cuts are estimated at $1.1 billion. AHCCCS was cut by $541.5 million, making it possible for 280,000 people to lose coverage. These cuts leave 5,200 seriously mentally ill people with medication-only coverage and other losses similar to the cuts in March 2010.

“…the growth in Arizona Medicaid spending is a key driver of our state’s current budget crisis,” Governor Jan Brewer said in a statement on the cuts.  “Medicaid’s explosive growth, nearing almost 65 percent over the past four years despite ongoing attempts to stem its increases, is simply unsustainable and threatens to consume the core functions of state government.”

To some these cuts are seen as more than just balancing a budget but also a safety issue for Arizona.

“Arizona has one of the lowest grades for mental health in the nation,” said Patricia Bonivel, an Arizona resident whose spouse is diagnosed with a mental illness.Arizona Health Care Cuts, Mentally Ill Suffer

“Mental illness is not going away; we have to address the system, effectively streamline the system and work within an adequate budget line,” Bonivel said.  “This is not the time or area to slash costs; it can only end up with additional overburdened areas and does nothing to promote wellness and recovery — the goal of which needs to be attained for the sake of us all.”

In her recent statement on the budget cuts, Governor Brewer said she is “mindful of the very real impacts these reductions will have” but holds to the belief that “this is Arizona’s only option to restore [its] fiscal stability.”

Bonivel asks the question whether or not these cuts are worth the “small margin” of economic gain and said, “Looking at recent events in Tucson, I think the answer is NO; think about it!”

Now go for it. Close your eyes and imagine what you would do faced with these difficult decisions. You may surprise yourself.